WANTED: Genius for Hire. Inquire Within


nRhythm’s resident storyteller Lon Vining recently caught up with Sara van Rensburg, CEO of Colorado Thought Leaders Forum to talk about the great things happening at CTLF. This is Part 2 of a multi-part series of articles from their talk. 

Sara van Rensburg and her team at the Colorado Thought Leaders Forum (CTLF) have discovered something that has revolutionized their organization, and lucky for you, they’re not keeping it a secret.  This regenerative change in their organizational design has created outcomes that van Rensburg says are far greater than they could have ever envisioned. Their discovery? They call it “hiring for genius.”


First, for those who missed our last article, we will define what genius is exactly. No, you don’t have to have a bunch of Einstein’s on staff.  It’s more like a combination of your talents and your personality and the things that drive you, all in one. This is how Sara defines genius:

“Your genius is that part of you, that lens, that something you bring to every single thing you do. It’s what and how you’re always going to do things, how you see things a certain way. You’re always going to bring this gift forward because it’s your strength. Whether you’re at work, or volunteering at your kids’ school, or at your family reunion—you are still going to be that person, you’re going to bring that genius, because it is you, and you can’t escape it.”


Some may still scoff at the idea that a single change in the hiring practice of an organization could create the healthy conditions from which abundant outcomes would flow. Surely sales or marketing, increased efficiency, greater productivity through employee incentivization, or even better managerial training are more important than hiring. It’s reasonable to be skeptical, given way most organizations go about the process of hiring which comes up far short of seriously driving positive outcomes.


But CTLF has observed that workplaces that embrace regenerative principles and actively seek to engage each team member’s unique genius attract highly motivated people who are deeply engaged and stay longer—the perfect conditions for organizational abundance and resilience.



So when looking at candidates, CTLF is not looking for a perfect amount of job experience, a quick wit, eloquent speaking ability or an agreeable disposition—though they’re not against any of those things either! But they don’t matter to CTLF nearly as much as the applicant’s answer to the single question: “What is your genius?”

Sarah says that, therefore, finding the right people does not just happen in an interview, it happens before the interviews begin as your team determines the type of genius a person needs to be successful in that role, and on the team. So the onus is on the organization to do their homework ahead of time to determine exactly what type of person will naturally flourish.


Sara said that next to genius, it is vital to find new staff members who are truly aligned with the values and culture of your organization. The way to determine who is a good fit, however, starts not with the individual, but with the organization,  which must clearly define itself.

“At CTLF, we believe we must be crystal clear on our context: who are we, what are our values, what is our purpose, what is our environment, and what is the quality of life we want to live. Because if you can clearly define what your environment is, then you know what kind of person is going to succeed there. Then that clarity lets people decide if they are or are not a good fit for our environment.”



Another tremendous outcome is the ownership and energy flow that comes from being in a role and organization that is in alignment with your genius and values.

“The aligned person is thriving, when we are clear about our values and vision, and we understand where we’re going—now we are all co-creating the outcomes. And if you could create an outcome with me, I don’t have to hold you accountable, [because] we did it together. It’s your outcome, just as much as mine. And now we can produce that together!”



I asked Sara if she could give me an example of how hiring for genius had proved valuable to the organization, and her face lit up as she told me a recent success story. She said CTLF had a team member who, despite being an incredibly hard worker, was overwhelmed by her job, and felt like she had to operate at 120% capacity just to keep up. Obviously, it wasn’t a healthy nor sustainable situation. Sara said it became apparent that the reason things were so difficult was that the role and the fast-paced rhythm of CTLF demanded things of that team member that were just too far outside her genius.


Realizing this, the exhausted team member eventually took a job at another company in a role better suited for her. CTLF then took some time to figure out the exact type of genius a person would need to flourish in that particular role. Their values also needed to mesh with CTLF’s HEART-Level Leadership ethos, and its fast-paced, rapidly-evolving entrepreneurial environment. It seemed like a tall order, but when they finally hired someone based almost exclusively on their genius and who fit in with CTLF’s culture and values, Sara says something amazing happened.


“We witnessed something extremely powerful. This new team member flourished in the job beyond our wildest expectations.”


In only three weeks, the new hire had flown through the onboarding process and was doing the entire job.  Not only that, she seemed to thrive in her role and in the office environment. So Sara sat down with her one day to see if what she thought she was seeing was actually true. She began by asking her what percentage of capacity she still had left now that she was doing the whole job. Her answer, says Sara, blew her away.


“She told me she had about 60% more capacity to give!” So here was this person doing this difficult job with enormous capacity left over to do more, where the former, highly capable team member had been drowning under it all while working at 120% capacity. The issue was the difference in their genius.”

Sara said that from that point on, CTLF has continued to place genius at the top of their hiring considerations.




Sara offers one word of caution to those who lead an innovative organization like hers with people-first values. She notes that such companies are quickly becoming the “hot” place to work, particularly for millennials. With such wide-spread interest, she says that some people will want to be a part of your organization who have good hearts and solid resumes, but who are nevertheless a horrible fit for the organization for the reasons she’s already made clear: they don’t have the genius they need to productively fill that role.


“Every applicant who admires your organization may make you feel encouraged, but don’t confuse that with the fact that they don’t have the genius you’ve identified you need to grow your organization. Just say ‘no,” she said.



Van Rensburg also said that the value of putting people in roles that fit their genius goes for existing team members, too.  She says a question she gets repeatedly from outsiders is “how does a person know what his or her genius is?” That’s a bit more difficult with a new hire, but if you delve into discovering one’s genius with existing team members, Sara says that finding their genius is much easier, because they don’t have to go it alone. She described how the process went with her own team members:


“Because we were all in relationship with each other, we got to help and say, hey, this is also your genius. Did you notice that? You know when you do this thing over here that’s part of your genius.”


She continued, “I encourage them to ask the people closest to them ‘what’s my genius?’ And to consider this: if I’m at my kid’s school, a barbecue or a family reunion, what is the thing I always bring because it’s me. I can’t help it.  That thing is your genius.”




A concept related to genius in regenerative organizations is holism, which stresses the importance of team members being able to “bring their ‘whole self’ to work.”  It’s not saying “anything goes,” but it’s allowing people to be who they are. Regenerative organizations like CTLF encourage individuals to discover and utilize their unique genius in the way that best benefits the organization as a whole. They also encourage people to bring their whole selves to work—their passions, their strengths, their quirks and uniqueness’s—sometimes even their partners, their kids, their dogs or even a cause they are championing! (in moderation). Sara says that when we leave a part of us behind, we remove part of our potential, creativity and energy. But when we bring our entire self to a cause, role, or project, extraordinary things can happen.


Putting people in a role that fits who they are and that gives them energy also has an effect on that rarely discussed elephant in the corporate board room: mental health.


“I just don’t think it’s possible for any of us to really be fulfilled doing something that feels like a burden every day. It affects your mental health in a very adverse way.”



But Sara says there are times when a person’s genius, or their fit with the company’s culture or values, just doesn’t align, and it is better that they find a role in another organization.


“It’s not always possible to save everyone, which was hard, because I almost felt like, gosh, if we’re going to put people in their genius that means I have to help all of them thrive. Well, actually, no, no I don’t. I just have to shine the light on how their genius can fit into the whole, and they get to opt themselves into our environment, or out. And I used to think that I should be designing a role that helps [every team member] thrive, whether it’s going to help the organization thrive or not. But that’s not true.”


Sara said that CTLF has witnessed employees leave the organization and flourish in new jobs because their new roles are a better match to their genius. She said it’s not necessarily finding everyone a place in your organization to use their genius, but rather the work is in helping team members discover their genius, and then they will be equipped to know what job they should take, be it in your organization, or another.




There’s an old sports maxim that states “you can’t coach talent,” which basically means that talent is an “x” factor that goes beyond a coach’s ability to shape a player’s ultimate greatness. If a player doesn’t have talent, even a great coach can develop them only so far. But a player who has both a great coach and great talent will be the most successful.


Sara’s final word on genius sounds oddly similar.


“You can’t teach genius,” she says. “You either have it or you don’t.”


But luckily for you and your organization, you can hire for it.

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Lon's creative bent, artistic skills and humanitarian heart belie a diverse background as entrepreneur, artist, journalist, missionary and marketing/communications director. His award-winning writings have been published in numerous local, national and international publications. Lon considers himself a crusader at heart, instigating the healthy disruption of extractive institutional or societal structures of any kind to create fertile conditions for people, organizations, communities, and the planet to experience thriving, abundant life.

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