I headed up to New York City to check out the beginning of the US Open, the last Grand Slam of the year for the tennis community. I love the early days because you get a chance to see some great matches with players that not everyone is really that interested in. You can either watch the Roger Federers of the world destroy their opponents, or you can see people like Mikhail Youzhny and Taylor Dent (who?) win close, but extremely well-played matches.
I find that in general I’m drawn to the players who have a flare for drama. And let’s face it: who doesn’t? Though I don’t love Venus and Serena Williams or Andy Roddick, they don’t play dull matches. They carry that stereotypical American sense of confidence and entitlement that makes them easy targets for people to love or hate – but either way, you have a strong opinion about them. I don’t cheer for any of them, but I can’t say I don’t like watching them play. And how can you forget the big 2 on the men’s side? Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal are friendly and respectful towards one another, but their rivalry is so intense that it’s easy to get sucked in.
Now, contrast all of them to players like Juan Martin del Potro and Dinara Safina. What? You haven’t heard of them? Shame on you! Not that they’re household names, but del Potro is currently #6 on the men’s tour while Safina has held the top spot in women’s tennis for quite some time now. Players like these tend to fly a bit under the radar (relatively speaking), accruing and impressing fans because of their talent, but not really making a whole lot of waves in the public sphere. They’ve got fans, but it’s taken longer to get these fans on their sides.
A lot of times, people are successful in the corporate sphere not just because they’re talented, but because they speak up, they make waves, they have a flare for drama that often helps them get noticed. That’s not a bad thing; on the contrary, by harnessing that, they can take on more responsibility and move forward in an organization faster than usual. It does need to be kept in check, though: not knowing your place can sometimes catch up with you.
Compare that to an extremely talented individual who does an exemplary job, but doesn’t go out of their way to make a name for themselves. This isn’t a person who keeps their head down, but doesn’t hold it up high for all to see. They are one of a kind – but only their direct team knows that. They’ll make it, but it might take a bit longer for them without a little help.
You can make both styles work depending on who you are, but be aware that these styles (and many more) will coexist in teams, in groups, in organizations, etc. Don’t just take notice of the ones who are first to toss their hat into the ring with an idea or a commitment. There’s certainly something to be said for volunteerism and enthusiasm, but there may be other factors at play here: shyness, modesty, a willingness to let others succeed. Get something out of the quiet ones. Even though their ideas weren’t first, they may still be just as good, if not better.
Sometimes, it’s a good idea to find a way to encourage these low-key people to come out of their shells and “play the game”, so to speak. But if they’re doing such a tremendous job as they are, then it might be OK to leave them be and recognize them all the same instead of just rewarding the same (over)zealous individuals time in and time out. Advocating on their behalf and making sure other people know about their talent and their potential can greatly help them to succeed. If I didn’t have that from a supervisor when I first started, I might’ve left the HR industry behind – and what a loss that would be for all of my fans.
Who knows? You might have the next US Open champ on your hands and it’d be a real shame to get in their way.