Are You Unleashing Potential or Undermining It?

Are You Unleashing Potential or Undermining It?

A recent BlessingWhite survey found that one third of employees feel micromanaged by a boss or supervisor.  Being on the receiving end of micromanaging is especially problematic for High-Potential (HP) employees because it means they are regularly subjected to excessive monitoring, questioning, checking, and nit-picking.  If, indeed, the goal of an organization is to “unleash” potential, doesn’t micromanaging do just the opposite and actually undermine it?  On the one hand, HPs are expected to out-think, outpace, out-create, and out-perform most others.  On the other hand, micromanagement is experienced as distrust, intellectual insult, babying, innovation-killing, and meddling—far off the mark of talent development goals. These are precisely the sort of mixed-messages that the vast majority of my HP clients have complained about for the past decade, with little improvement from company to company.  It is also a key reason why enormously valuable employees become fed up and leave their organizations or simply “checking out” to do the minimum.  Either is a terrible outcome for the organization.

According to BlessingWhite’s coaching practice leader Cathy Earley, micromanaging “is a real concern in today’s organization because it goes to the heart of the challenge of how to motivate and empower individuals in order to get the best performance. . . The result is a disengaged worker who puts in time but little else, and the person’s apathy eventually infects colleagues in the workplace.” (see

Why then, would a supervisor engage in micromanaging?  Do managers really believe control tactics are the best way to support HPs so they might successfully deliver on their exceptional abilities?  Are they well-intentioned managers who are stuck in outdated practices and misconceptions?  Do managers who over-control still believe their job is to critique and tell vs. encourage and inquire?  The answer is more likely lurking under the surface.

At Talent Psychology Consulting, Ltd.  we have worked with many organizations that genuinely want to provide talent programs that support HP development, not hinder it. Nevertheless, in most of these organizations success is not a possibility given the prevailing mind set.  Misinformation and stereotypes are the true culprits that undermine talent development instead of unleashing it. [Please see post: “Are Stereotypes Killing Your Talent Program?”]

Left unchecked, bias and distorted thinking cause untold problems whether the company realizes it or not.  In our view, any talent development program that does not address this issue is destined to fail, right from the start.  Unfortunately, most organizations and even TM advisors have no idea what the real problem is, much less how to prevent it or fix it.  Fortunately, we at TPC know the research inside and out, how to design and deliver successful TM programs, and how to create an atmosphere where HPs thrive and contribute in key ways that keep organizations moving into the future and ahead of their competitors.  [Please see post: “It Pays (Literally) to Hire Top Talent”]

To illustrate this point, I have included a summary of a recent book review at Although I have never before written a negative comment about someone’s published work, I could not stand idly by in the face of a recently published book that flies in the face of what research reveals about high-potential people.  Sadly, this manuscript only reinforces outdated and unsupportable assumptions about HPs—the very thing we at TPC have been working to undo for the past several years.  Included below is a summary of my review on

Review of Clever: Leading Your Smartest, Most Creative People (R. Goffee & G. Jones):

Virtually NONE of the characterizations and slanderous remarks about high-ability people that are professed in “Clever”are evidence-based or supported in the professional literature.  Biased and extreme opinions never constitute believable claims. To anyone who has actually taken the time to read the research and professional literature on gifted adults, talent psychology, and leadership excellence, it is patently obvious that “Clever” is nothing more than a destructive repackaging of outdated strategies and last century’s thinking. Indeed, if the authors had hurled such unfounded insults at any other group of people they would undoubtedly find themselves facing a lawsuit.  Readers’ heads will ache from being tossed back and forth between two contradictory perspectives.  While the authors repeatedly stress the enormous value of bright, creative people in today’s organizations (one of the few accuracies in the book), they simultaneously pour scorn on them.

As with most forms of prejudice, the writers begin by assigning HPs a derogatory label: “clevers”!  They further belittle them as “recalcitrant”, “needy”, “obsessive”, hostile toward their organizations, “resistant”, “incessant interrogators of those who hope to lead them”, “organizational innocents”, and on and on. If they had bothered to investigate their biased views they would know there is no credible evidence or research to support these insults. In fact, many of the claims are actually opposite the truth.  Furthermore, the authors depict clever people as a tawdry collection of socially inept narcissists: “Communicating with clevers is always a challenge because they are totally absorbed by their own agendas”. Even worse, these top talent people are portrayed as a band of menacing insurgents: “good at gaming“, and inclined to “poison a culture very quickly“. One of the authors’ many ridiculous recommendations even warns organizations to “give clever people resources and space“—not in support of their exceptional creativity, but because it is “the only way to prevent them from using their Machiavellian talents to extract what they need“!

Tragically, the understanding of bright, creative people promised by “Clever” is nowhere to be found. Indeed this book is merely a slapdash money-making scheme comprised of opinions glued together by very bad misinformation. Altogether, its claims and recommendations are a prescription for TM and OD failure. Anyone who works for an organization that accepts these unfounded, backward views should run for the nearest exit and never look back.

One Comment

  1. Hi, I’m new on this forum and I want to say hello. I read a lot of time but today I want to say this is very good site.