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The Talent Equation: Relationship Currency as a Predictor of Career Success

Why brightness alone is not always enough to be successful in business and life.

Throughout my career, when speaking to talent professionals and reading many publications on how to hire and retain talent, there was and remains the mantra, “Hire The Best and The Brightest”.

This mantra is how our educational system and society rewards us. Our school system deems who gets into the most revered educational programs.

Of course, you also must be well rounded, demonstrating the potential to be a virtuoso piano player or a breakthrough in artificial intelligence, or perhaps a budding scientist who will cure the world of major illness.

Even engaging in community and charitable work has become competitive. What is considered more pressing becomes more attractive. So you might be volunteering for a climate change organisation or the humane society for abandoned pets. Guess which placement wins out?

Growing up, I revered these geniuses. They intimidated me. Some of them were math whizzes working on making the world a better place, others were musical prodigies.

Cool graffiti of Albert Einstein wearing glasses and a yellow jumper.

Regardless of the discipline, they were phenoms. Many of them held in awe. I, on the other hand, struggled in school. Frustrated and disheartened by efforts that were mediocre at best.

If I heard one more time “Cindy is not living up to her potential.” I thought I would scream. Hardly motivational. Was I supposed to achieve 90 or 100
per cent? What, anyways is the definition of potential?

Laden in that comment are near perfect scores. Forget it, even with a herculean effort I was never going to get there.

Now fast forward to the workplace. Organisations often have a bias for graduates of highly competitive programs. These job applicants read as smart. And indeed they are. We know geniuses do excel and can dance circles around most of us. They solve complex problems like no other.

We also know that when employees get terminated, it rarely is due to lack of technical expertise or not being smart enough. It often has to do with one’s inability to be a great connector.

How strong your relationship skills are will play a pivotal role in advancing your agenda.

If you cannot stand up and present your ideas in ways that are collaborative and engaging, you may have a hard time getting traction no matter how revolutionary your solutions.

People who seem socially awkward or cannot explain why other teams or the organisation should advance with their solution increase their chances of failure.

Peers in the workplace and those who make decisions need relationship skills to resonate so they can sell on the merits of their products or services.

There are a lot of bright ideas out there. You need to engage others on an emotional level, demonstrating how your solution will out beat the competition or be a key differentiator.

Geniuses add value to an organisation only if they have compelling interpersonal skills because they are often introverts who solve problems in isolation. They can feel challenged when trying to connect with others. This is fine in a lab or back room.

Once geniuses enter the workforce, life becomes much more difficult. People are needed to carry their ideas forward.

Person with disco ball on their head, sitting on a public bench, and reading a magazine called 'ideas'.

Here is the good news. For most of the population, this should be a relief. We need to encourage organisations not to be swayed by genius capability alone, especially if the necessary interpersonal skills are at a deficit.

Hiring for genius may not always be cost-effective and quite frankly is overrated. Many times these candidates do not work out. Hiring on intellect alone could be expensive to the morale of the team as well as the high costs associated with hiring and firing.

It is easy to hire based on a university transcript or previous job titles; it is more profitable to assess how a candidate develops and cultivates relationships.

When we combine robust relationship skills with the ability to take risks, solve with a creative mindset, and showcase innovation, that is an unbeatable combination.

When the best and the brightest are anchored in well-developed interpersonal skills, an organisation can truly prosper and capitalise on future growth.


Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specialising in executive coaching and talent management.

She can be contacted at


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