Skip to content

How to Recognize Great Talent

Recognizing Great Talent

Learning how to recognize great talent is the key to making amazing hires in executive search. While it is pretty easy to tell who’s good while seated court-side in Madison Square Garden watching the New York Knicks play, it is not so easy for Chief Executive Officers seated in the C-suite.  At the senior-executive level, candidates start to resemble one another. They often share similar academic credentials and similar career trajectories. They all meet the basic qualifications or they would not have made it this far. However, to hire senior executive talent that is truly game-changing,  you must somehow discern the difference between two seemingly identical candidates. To make the right hire, you must develop the ability to figure out which candidate will outperform the rest. You must increase your powers of observation to discern great leadership talent. 

A Lesson on How to Discover Great Talent

Shortly before my career in executive search, I had an experience that shed light on how to recognize great talent. Early in my marriage, I discovered my husband Crispin Cioe seated on the floor of the living room, completely engrossed in sorting saxophone reeds into separate piles. He’d hold up a reed against the light to examine the grain, wet it in his mouth, position the reed atop his mouthpiece, and align the tip of the reed with the tip of the mouthpiece just so. Next, he’d encircle the reed and mouthpiece with the ligature, and tighten its screws. With the reed locked in place, he’d raise the mouthpiece to his lips and blow. After sounding the note, Crispin then would unscrew the ligature, remove the reed, and place it on one of three piles.

Obsessive Focus

Crispin was hyper-focused on what he was doing. You might say he was obsessed. I witnessed him repeat the reed testing sequence a good dozen — maybe two dozen — times. As I watched on, I could not figure out for the life of me what each separate group was for — so I asked. Pointing to the first pile, Crispin replied, “Oh, these are for practicing.” Pointing to the adjacent group he added, “These are for performing. ” He paused, and in a reverential tone added, “And these are for recording sessions.”

The saxophone reeds were all from the same box. They all looked identical. My husband was insisting on sorting the reeds into different piles when there appeared to be absolutely no difference at all.  Of course, the thought crossed my mind that I may have just married a man who had become unhinged. And so I sat down on the floor beside him and said, “Help me hear the difference.”

Ability to Transcend

I closed my eyes and concentrated on the bleating and honking sounds that had been indistinguishable before. The practice reed dutifully sounded a note when it vibrated. Yet when Crispin blew the same note on a performance reed, the note filled the room. It was not louder, but bigger. The very shape of the sound had morphed. Then when Crispin tested the recording reed, the note went some other place entirely. The sound gave me literal goosebumps. It transcended. Great talent transcends.

Saxophone Photo by Ahron Foster
Photo Credit: Ahron Foster

Commitment to Mastery

I frequently think of that day when I recruit senior executives. Clearly, executives who are counted among the best are gifted. But they achieve greatness by showing up and working hard in the relentless pursuit of excellence. They are on a quest for mastery. It is a journey that never ends. They simply do not stop finding ways to get better at what they do. They want their work to matter, to make a difference, to mean something, and to move people.

The nuances that separate the extraordinary from the ordinary are often subtle, but there are patterns that you can learn to recognize in the intensity that they bring to what they do: Focus. Discipline. Mastery. Great talent is identifiable through patterns of behavior. Learning pattern recognition is how to recruit top talent.

To Recognize Great Talent, Be Fully Present

My ability to recognize top performers took another quantum leap with yoga. The class devotes the last fifteen minutes to meditation. When you practice mindfulness, you are fully present and capable of noticing what you previously might have missed.

So quiet your mind. Great talent almost always will be revealed.

For more executive recruiting tips, check out our Executive Search Collection featuring articles about recruiting Neurodiverse Candidates for Genius Hires and 12 Reasons to Hire a Headhunter

Thanks for reading! We welcome your comments. If you enjoyed our post, please show the love and share it with your friends by clicking the buttons below. It makes it easier for others to find the post.

Krista Bradford

Krista Bradford

Krista Bradford is CEO of the retained executive search firm The Good Search and of its research division Intellerati. A former award-winning television journalist and investigative reporter, Ms. Bradford now pursues truth, justice, and great talent in the executive suite.View Author posts

Feel good. Share the knowledge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *