Often companies overlook certain skill sets

how organisations waste talent, the venture magazineOver the past few years, LinkedIn has estimated that anywhere between 45 and 60 per cent of its more than 400 million users are “passive jobseekers.” Some recruiters believe these so-called “passive jobseekers” now comprise up to 75 per cent of the overall workforce. Gallup surveys have shown poor engagement for a while now, with the per centage of people who are actively engaged at 31 in the United States and 14 in Australia/New Zealand in 2017.

We also keep hearing of leadership failures despite billions of dollars being invested in leadership development. Poor leadership is showing up at organisational, political, and social levels, locally and globally. We seem to have a mismatch between the types of leaders we want compared to ones we have or are appointed. In addition, diversity — in whatever category you look at — is not reflected in leadership within organisations and society and most people would agree that progress is slow.

It’s not to say there aren’t any good leaders out there, but we should ask ourselves:

  • Are we selecting the right people for leadership positions?
  • Are we overlooking and wasting real talent?

Below are five ways in which organisations and leaders may be overlooking and wasting real talent.

Biased leadership frameworks and interpretation

Some leadership frameworks are skewed toward certain qualities, others are more balanced. Even if the frameworks are balanced, interpretations vary and some elements are given more importance, disadvantaging people whose strengths are in the lower priority elements.

If you were to choose one to promote between people who have the following qualities into a leadership position, who would you pick?



Action oriented




Quiet/softly spoken






Whether we realise or not, we tend to value the left-hand column more than the right. The qualities on the right column can be perceived as not leader-like, even though they can be leadership strengths.

Mesmerised by charisma

A phenomenon known as the ‘awestruck effect’ has been researched and shows that we are often mesmerised by charismatic leaders such that we lose our capacity to think rationally and become easily manipulated. As a result, when a person makes a positive first impression, we may miss warning signs while we may disregard people who make a lukewarm first impression. Worse still, we let some leaders get away with abusing their power, either because we believe they can do no wrong, or because we are too afraid to call them out when they misbehave.

False meritocracy

We have unconscious biases and stereotypes not only based on more visible attributes such as gender, ethnicity, LGBTQIA+, and physical abilities, but on less visible attributes such as personal styles and perceived confidence. These biases are unconscious or denied such that some organisations and leaders claim that they have meritocracy. True meritocracy is difficult to achieve as “privilege is invisible to those who have them,” as Prof Michael Kimmel says.

Resulting biased selection/promotion/assessments

how organisations waste talent, the venture magazineEven if organisations use blind CVs as a way of limiting unconscious bias based on names, the traditional recruitment/selection/promotion approaches still makes it difficult, if not impossible, for some talented people to get through the hoops.

Personality profiling — Unconscious bias against some personality traits still exists. For example, there is an organisation that eliminated introverts from their talent pool.

Interviews — Interviewers may not be attentive or skilled enough to uncover real talents. Expertise and substance of some talented people may require better questions and listening.

Leadership assessment centres — Many assessment centres focus on group work, speaking up, thinking on your feet, and preparing presentations quickly, often biased against people who prefer to prepare well, read, research, and reflect.

Referees — Referees are usually someone more senior. Candidates’ leadership effectiveness is rarely, if ever, assessed by their team, such that poor leaders who manage up well can be preferred over good leaders.

Performance or talent assessments –— Talented people get overlooked despite all their achievements, quality output, strong relationships, and influencing skills — because they don’t ‘fit’ the expected leadership style.

Resulting unproductive environment for some

how organisations waste talent, the venture magazineFor some talented people, the working environment does not harness their strengths. Open plan offices and brainstorming are examples of environments that reduce creativity and productivity for quiet professionals. Leaders may lack the skills to adapt to different needs of people, intentionally or unintentionally forcing people to ‘fit’ the mainstream approaches.

For organisations to minimise the waste in talent, you may wish to consider:

  • Expanding the definition of talent and leadership, both on paper and beliefs.
  • Reviewing and implementing processes and systems to minimise bias, stereotypes, and awestruck effects in selection/promotion/assessments.
  • Checking whether the working environment favours some more than others and adjust.

The cost of wasting real talent cannot be ignored, as people who are overlooked lose confidence, give up, disengage, burn out, or leave. Rather than a war for talent, we should wage a war on wasted talent.

Megumi Miki is a leadership and culture specialist and founder of Quietly Powerful. Megumi helps individuals, leaders, and organisations to unlock their hidden potential. She is the Author of upcoming book ‘Quietly Powerful: How your quiet nature is your hidden leadership strength’ (Major Street Publishing $29.95) and ‘Start Inspiring, Stop Driving: Unlock your team’s potential to outperform and grow’ (Baker Street Press $24.95).  For more information about Megumi visit www.megumimiki.com.