Skip to main content

The Curse of Being Too Good

By October 12, 2017No Comments

I’m currently reading a biography of the former Heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston.

One of thirteen children of a dirt-poor sharecropping family born amidst the Great Depression, Liston didn’t have the easiest of starts on this planet. Although slavery had been abolished 50 years prior to his arrival, little had changed for those working the Morledge Plantation near Johnson Township, Arkansas. Technically now “free”, most families hadn’t left the plantations of their former owners. Education was limited, money, and the means to travel even more so. Many families, the Liston’s included, weren’t aware that there were other ways to live their lives outside of growing cotton and attending church.  Precociously large and strong, Sonny Liston was denied access to the one-room school the plantation provided. With the strength of a man, Sonny Liston worked the fields whilst other children his aged learned the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic. It would seem not for the first time, that Liston’s incredible natural attributes had held him back more than they’d helped.

Learning to box in prison, and soon falling under Mob control, Liston went on to have a short and troubled life. Setting the standard for those boxers who followed, everyone seemed to get rich off of Sonny. That is, apart from Sonny Liston himself. His handlers controlled and motivated the uneducated fighter with a mix of carrot, in the form of tailored suits and other flashy baubles, and stick. For the Mob, the stick was probably worse than an actual stick. Sonny Liston died young, poor, and exploited under mysterious circumstances, his brute strength and natural ability proving to be a curse from birth.

Image result for sonny liston

What the hell does this have to do with recruitment?

Much to the annoyance of both my wife AND girlfriend, I relate most things back to this cruel industry. It got me thinking how talent, if nurtured and development, can lead to fantastic and rewarding careers. Like Liston however, talent, and the cold, hard cash that it generates, can also be exploited. Let me give you an example…

A couple of months ago, we placed a Resourcer into their first “360” recruitment consultant role. The candidate had been a Resourcer for the past 4 years. In a market where most firms want a newbie picking up the phone and selling as soon as possible, this was a red flag. Likewise, in an industry where, wrongly, the move from Resourcer/Candidate Manager to Recruiter is seen as a promotion, why hadn’t they made the transition in their current firm? The answer was, they were just too good at finding great candidates. Agency owners usually know when they’re onto a good thing. Although the Resourcer had shown the confidence, credibility, and drive to be a great Recruiter, their skills as a Resourcer, and the demands of the Consultants who they were supporting, kept this candidate working the fields.

And this thinking isn’t just limited to Resourcers. It is well documented that many high-billing recruiters make terrible man-managers. However, I’m sure some recruitment savants are both great billers AND great leaders. Sadly for them, we may never know. In many firms, the better you are on the tools, the less likely you are to be taken off of them. The opportunity to have a truly fulfilling career and maximising their real potential is replaced with the flashy bauble of next month’s commission check. And although their personal earnings are high, the agency owner is doing very well indeed, without having to take the punches that running a recruitment desk throws.

Of course, there has to be a level of commercial pragmatism in terms of how we manage and promote staff. We can’t all get the dream job at the expense of the business. However, keeping your cash cow in a lucrative yet ultimately unfulfilling role may prove to be shortsighted. One day they might just realise that there are other ways to grow their careers elsewhere.

That’s all from me for a while. Your usual blogger is back next Friday.

It’s been emotional.