Karin’s Leadership Articles

Talent Reviews: What They're Saying Behind Closed Doors

by | May 21, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning, Communication |

The talent you count on as central to your brand could rub people the wrong way. What you do well, may not do you well.

After two decades participating in talent reviews, I’ve noticed a pattern. The talents candidates count on as central to their brand, are often talked about negatively when assessing their readiness for promotion. Be aware of what decision makers may be saying about you. Your strengths may be weakened in other’s eyes.

5 Talents Reviewed (ups and downs)

Here’s what I’ve heard said about good guys behind their backs. Worry that addressing over-used talents will stifle current performance.

Your boss knows, but you don’t grow.

Be aware of your talent and both sides of the conversation.

1. Servant Leadership

To Your Face: “You always put your team first.” “You avoid the politics and do what’s right for the customer.” “Thanks for creating that culture.”
Behind Closed Doors: “He can’t manage up. “He doesn’t sell his work.”

2. Passion

To Your Face: “I love your passion and energy!” “Your passion inspires your team.”
Behind Closed Doors: “She’s a bit much.” “Is he for real?” “Why is she so excited?” “We need to work on executive presence.”

3. Expertise

To Your Face: “You’re my go-to guy.” “I won’t attend an important meeting without you.” “No one knows “X” better than you.”
Behind Closed Doors:  “Can he move across functions?” “We can’t afford to lose him in his current role.”

4. Sponsors

To Your Face: “You’ve got Joe in your corner. He loves you, that goes a long way.”
Behind Closed Doors “What’s going on here? Why is he so focused on her career?” “Sure, Joe’s his fan, but who else knows him?” “What other relationships has he built?

5. Results

To Your Face:  “Your results are amazing.” “I know if I give it to you it will be done well.”
Behind closed doors: “I get she has results in this function but can she scale?

Don’t Lose You

I don’t want you to be less passionate or to hide your expertise. Neither do they. Use your gifts, and be sensitive to unintended consequences.

  • Understand that your talent can get in the way
  • Talk to your boss about how you’re viewed by others
  • Ask others if they see downsides to your talents
  • Pause after receiving feedback show you’re open for more
  • Observe others with similar style, what annoys you about their approach?
  • Ask what do the other execs think about my style?

Build on your talent with awareness. Ask for input. Adjust with authenticity.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    Karin- a good story may summarized in few words. Romeo and Juliet may be summarized by saying “Love is greater than death”.
    This post- you did the summary in an envious way by writing ” What you do well, may not do you well”. Fantastic synopsis and eye-opener.
    Double-faced actions and words are really toxic.

    But the question is how a manager or leader claims to be one when he/she exercises double talk?

    Not surprising that leaders are a rare breed.

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Ali, I am so enjoying your comments. Thanks so much for enhancing the conversation each day. I agree that it’s important for leaders to be transparent. If there are talents that are getting in the way, people need to know. This one is tricky, because you don’t want the employee to head in other direction…. to stop what they are good at… it’s a matter of degree. I think some folks shy away, because that’s a particularly tough conversation to do well.

    • Ali Anani (@alianani15)

      Karin. I am glad and humbled by your reply. I made a comment On the Harvard LinkedIn Group and wish to share it with you. I wonder if it rings a bell?

      Fire-extinguishers extinguish fire. Some manager extinguish dreams, motivation, expectations. Yes, I propose the term “The dream extinguishers”. Unfortunately, they only kindle harmful fires and do not even know how to put them off. Who would continue working for them or with them?

  3. Dave Tumbarello

    Amazing. And to think that the very leaders who tell us not to “talk behind someone’s back” do the talking behind our back. And I don’t mean that in a spiteful way, since they are doing their job to assess progress and cultural fit. So they have a job to do, but unfortunately, part of their interpretation (and yours’ in the past) is to have two dialogues. Unfortunate, since for the benefit of everyone involved a transparent message would best suit the company, the employee, and management.
    I think about this concept of “two dialogues” – and I’m trying to be empathetic with the reviewers … A change that happened in public schools since my primary education is with the old fashioned parent-teacher conferences. In most every school these days, teachers now allow students to sit alongside during parent-teacher. I draw this analogy because during transparent dialogue, different language is used, teachers speak in terms of growth opportunities (instead of criticism), and the student hears objective assessment — but without judgement (ideally). The analogy should be obvious to your example, Karin, since one dialogue should be preferred over two dialogues. Because all the feedback about the employee can be interesting, valid concerns if shared the right way. After all, it is about feedback. Too bad other motives enter into the process.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Dave, wow… you have an inspiring idea here… what would happen if we included the people being discussed in these reviews. An intriguing model.

  4. Matt McWilliams

    #2 described me.

    To my face: You are so driven, passionate, and we love how excited you get.

    Not to my face: Good gosh son, slow down. Calm down.

    I learned executive presence by being very unexecutive.

Virtual Leadership Training Programs


Join the Let’s Grow Leaders community for free weekly leadership
insights, tools, and strategies you can use right away!

Where in the World are
Karin & David?

Other Related Posts