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Two leaders, three practices to ignite talent

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In my daily working life I have the great privilege to work with talents and (their) managers. Over the past years I’ve come to appreciate how tough it is to ignite talents in one another. The intrinsic challenge is that our talents are so often latent, not manifest. If this is the case we’re trying to build awareness about talents someone we’re working with hasn’t realised (yet).

In situations such as this, another person holds the key to unlock self awareness. It’s just too easy to demand that people know what they don’t know, but, sadly enough, this is exceedingly common. How often have you found yourself asking, or answering the question: “where do you see yourself in five years?”. This question is fine, as long as you know. If you don’t know, the question draws an uninspired blank.

I would like to introduce you to two managers who are acting radically different.

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Meet Patty, the manager of John. Patty is a participant in a short, three month, program I’ve developed to help managers become managers of the talents in their teams. In the closing session last week I asked the managers to recap their learnings. Patty astounded us all by sharing the story of John. John was basically a write-off. Every other manager in the management team Patty was member of, told her so. Patty thought differently. She confronted John one day with this incredible reflection: “I see you have it in you, even though I have yet to see you try. Also: I have full confidence you will be able to develop your talent. By what date can you show me your efforts?”. Needless to say: John ultimately became what Patty saw in him.

Amazing, don’t you think? The power someone can hold to ignite someone’s potential? Our second manager, Jane, builds on that foundation with another two good practices.

Jane is the manager of Charles, a participant in a talent program that I have helped design, develop and still deliver. Charles turned out to be a top-talent who made two promotions during the program, significantly doubling the average. This is what Jane contributed to his ignition:

◦ She made effective use of situational leadership where she invested in Charles by delegating responsibility (read: not only tasks) to him. Nelson Mandela described Jane’s competence in his autobiography as “leading from behind”.

◦ Jane challenged Charles through strong dialogue and debate.

Although we never have to tell talents what to think, we do have a role in guiding talents: to challenge them to think critically and to step out of their comfort zone in their daily actions.

I’m curious to know your stories of ignition. Was there someone in your life who sparked your interests or the self-awareness of your talents? What are you contributing to others in this regard?

Tags: talent development, performance improvement, talent management

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Evert Pruis

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