Thought Leadership

Cultivating Diamonds: A Leadership Approach to Unleashing Potential

Are you a great screener of talent? Or a world-class nurturer of potential? As leaders, we need to be both. But I would argue that we have spent too much time and effort trying to ‘objectively’ and ‘rigorously’ screen for talent.  All in the often futile hope of finding that previously undiscovered fully-formed gem. And we’ve spent too little effort nurturing that gem to reach its true potential: a diamond.

This approach is endemic in our society. It’s how top universities and schools select students, how sporting teams pick athletes, how venture capitalists (VCs) screen entrepreneurs to fund, how political parties select candidates… the list goes on.

There’s a deep irony here. In every sector today, we want to increase the proportion of people from underrepresented backgrounds. This is absolutely the right goal, but that takes real nurturing. If we don’t provide that, we may attract new groups of people, but on a false promise. We will leave them stranded so they plateau or even fail outright.

So, why do we always look for the final product and not the diamond in the rough? The truth is that nurturing potential is tough. It takes time, and often it feels thankless.

But only screening for talent is an abdication of leadership responsibility. Talent is innate. It requires nothing of us, beyond just picking the best of what is already there. The potential is forward-looking. It requires work, but the long-term rewards for us and our people can be so much greater.

That’s why inflection moments can be powerful tools for us as leaders – and why they can allow us to shine. They enable us – even force us – to ensure that we bring everyone’s potential to the challenge at hand. Because the urgency of the inflection moment demands nothing less.

Here’s the tough truth: talent is ‘innate’, but only up to a point. Our success deeply reflects our advantages and the luck of the draw. It is often said that talent is evenly distributed, while opportunity is not. Yet the very promise of ‘opportunity’ is only real if there is nurturing of potential alongside it. Otherwise, there’s just the illusion of the open door, which quickly slams shut.


The key to being a great nurturer is to resist the seductive illusion that selection of talent is the be-all and end-all. No matter how ‘rigorously’ we select someone, there is inherent (unintended) bias involved. Study after study shows that we tend to hire people who look and sound like ourselves.

The real trick is to create cultures that truly nurture the potential of all. It’s a big ambition, but it can be done. It requires an abundance mindset around potential and not the scarcity mindset that screening talent usually employs. There’s nothing more noble that we can do as leaders than to see the potential in all. Because if we can pull it off, we will truly enable our people to break free of their past as they leap into their future.


About the Author

Sharath Jeevan OBE is the globally recognized authority on Leadership at Inflection Moments. He is an acclaimed advisor, facilitator, and author supporting a wide range of organizations to navigate their Inflection Moments and futureproof success safely.  Sharath was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2022 New Year’s Honours and an Honorary Doctorate for his contributions to the field. 

He holds degrees from Cambridge University (First-Class Honours), Oxford University, and INSEAD (MBA with Distinction). He is an alumnus of Strategy& and eBay. He founded and led two education organizations – STiR Education & Teaching Leaders – which collectively impacted over 10 million children across 40,000 schools in the UK, US, India, East Africa, Indonesia, and Brazil.