The Unheard Third: How to identify, grow, and keep your latent leaders

Leaders lead. Followers follow. And then there’s The Unheard Third™: The people in the middle who, for one reason or another, fall through the leadership cracks when they’re passed through or passed over. These latent leaders are the next generation achievers whose potential has yet to, or may never be, turned into performance: Failing to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack, they just blend into the background,. They’re leaders, but just not yet. Left untended, The Unheard Third™ grows more and more disengaged, discontented and disheartened. Eventually, they become just another retention statistic.

There are millions of people who are waiting to make a contribution, who are enthusiastic about their work and their lives: They are waiting to let the rest of the world know about both. And companies can either tap into their enormous potential, or waste a precious resource and lose a competitive advantage.

So why do these folks languish under the radar, unrecognized and unrewarded? Though it’s not for lack of talent, skill or intelligence the reasons are still plentiful. Remember: un-mined does not imply incapable. (Could one of these describe you?

They don’t quite qualify for the high potential track. They haven’t yet learned the skills to stand up and stand out-to get the recognition they deserve.

They don’t know where they’re going or, if they do, they don’t know how to get there (grab a mentor, please).

They’re disengaged in their careers-what they have to offer is de-valued, untraditional or under-utilized so they haven’t put their skin in the game.

They just don’t see themselves as leadership material or they don’t identify with the word “leadership”. (This is particularly problematic for women who are fully two thirds of The Unheard Third™).

As the middle child in the organizational family, The Unheard Third™ is virtually invisible to the people who can positively influence their careers because, in actuality, they themselves feel invisible. Akin to the middle child in a family of origin, this group refuses to be categorized, is independent by nature and often has a sense of not belonging.

Failing to fit neatly into traditional definitions of leadership, they are needlessly discarded or ignored, more out of efficiency and convenience than for any other reason: Like it or not, most companies simply run smoother when things are nice and neat and tidy. But nice and neat and tidy betrays creativity, innovation and growth. In fact, The Unheard Third™ obstinately refusing to fit into an uninspired model of leadership might be precisely what is needed to shake up your organization and incite change.

Let’s face it-there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all genius: We each arrive with our own brand of brilliance and never is this more crucial than when business is tough or times troubling. Looking at The Unheard Third™ through the lens of opportunity, this population is an invitation to dismantle the status quo and to explore rich resources and previously disregarded talent in the most unlikely of places. This group teaches us the consummate lesson in diversity by being, well… diverse. They demand we broaden our definition of leadership. They remind us of the value of commitment, and the price we pay for forgetting that. By far it’s greatest contribution to the workplace lies with the fact that The Unheard Third™ is the ultimate study of the do’s and don’ts of engagement-the intrapersonal and interpersonal relationship between individuals, their work, their purpose and their passion.

Our culture is shifting and the chasm is narrowing between who we are and what we do. Engagement is the measure of connectedness between those things. What we know for sure is that there is a growing demand for congruency in all areas of our lives, and we are increasingly unwilling to leave any portion of ourselves behind when we go to work. Ultimately, what The Unheard Third™ illustrates is the dynamic that occurs when we are not intimately connected to all facets of ourselves or to the organization (or people) for which we work. This cohort underscores the argument for why it’s essential for us to be profoundly acquainted with ourselves so that we may live from purpose, and access the gifts and talents that enhance our lives and expand our capacity to lead. Failing to fully comprehend the impact we have on our work and, reciprocally, the impact it has on us will default us to Unheard status.

The extent to which we understand who we are and why we do what we do will result in deeper engagement with the company we keep by fostering deeper, more meaningful and sustainable relationships: Amongst co-workers, between management and employees; and between the entire team and the customer. Engagement results in connection and connection is the key to retention. Period.The Unheard Third™ knows who they are: They just need to be given the opportunity to identify themselves, and to be supported once they have. Once they demonstrate a willingness to step up, then it’s incumbent upon all of us to extend every one of our personal and professional resources to those in this dormant goldmine. After all, that’s why we’re called leaders, isn’t it?

Copyright (c) 2006 Nancy D. Solomon, LLC