5 Ways to Recognize and Utilize Talent

946545_glassblowerEditor’s note: This is a guest post Mike King of Learn This.

Talent is an interesting topic and one that is SO critical in the workforce.  Talent makes the difference between the top performers poor performers.  It can be cultivated and enhanced. Unfortunately the biggest problem is that talent is not always recognized by those who can see a use for it and individuals do not always see or even know how they can use it.  Luckily sometimes talents are obvious and people do utilize them in their life and work, but more often than not, talent is lost because it is difficult to recognize.  Here are 5 specific ways to recognize and utilize talent!

1. Talents Are Often Masked by Imbalance

Talents are not always recognized and one of the reasons for that is because they can be easily masked by imbalance. The imbalance of skills or lack of skills in a person’s life can easily mask talent because of so much disproportionate other ‘stuff’.  In the workplace this can be someone in the wrong role and doing things they simply don’t have any talents in and it could be in life, where people are so busy or distracted by circumstances they don’t ever explore and develop their talents so they are never known.  And then even if they are known, often talents are masked away by decisions in life to pursue a different career, live a certain type of lifestyle or hang around with specific friends that can not only draw a person away from their own talents but literally push those talents out of their life so they can’t ever be recognized.

One great example of this is from the book, “Outliers” by Gladwell where he explores research finding how many sports athletes (specifically with hockey in North America) have an advantage if they are in a school year and born early in the year instead of late since this extra months of maturity gives them many advantages.  Since there are specific dates for cutoffs into programs and the older athletes (relative to each other since they are all young athletes) can have a significant advantage.  This advantage to some is exactly what masks out much of the talent in the other athletes born late in each year.  The talents of many of lost or never discovered fairly because of this. (Karl’s note: We must break through these barriers to bring out the talent, happiness, and success for as many people as possible.)

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Many people mask their talents in many other ways as well such as lifestyle imbalance or skill imbalance. People with amazing talents might suffer in other fundamental areas such as social skills, or school skills where they are then quickly stereotypes or ‘labeled’ as a slow learner or put into special programs, often focusing on what they don’t have natural skills for and focusing on that imbalance instead of ever really developing the talent hiding behind that mask.  Social imbalance is a classic example as people quickly disregard or ignore socially inept people and their talents don’t get the attention or development as other people’s might, even though the talents can easily be as great or greater in comparison.

Recognizing talent can only be done if it is objective without prejudice or comparison to others.

Managerial Takeaway: Explore your people’s interests and hobbies to discover hidden talent that may not reveal itself in the workplace.  Let people try new things and explore new work so that you may uncover or develop a talent that is masked by the mundane or repetitive tasks.  You can easily be surprised at who or how real talent might be hiding right under your nose!

2. Passion, the Sure Sign?

Passion is another great way to recognize talent as they often go hand in hand.  Having passion for something can quickly expose or develop a talent and often the talent is what creates the passion in the first place.  Another simple test is to look at passion and how long it lasts or in what circumstances it exposes itself?  Is passion present only with certain activities or skills another person is using?  Or is passion on its own and existing regardless of what that person is doing?  Its much more likely a talent being exposed if they are more passionate about a certain activity or skill than on a topic, for instance.  Always look a little deeper into passions to see the root of it and this will hopefully lead you to more easily recognize talents that relate to that passion. (Karl’s note: Passion is one of the core components of a superpower.)

Managerial Takeaway: You need to really enable people to do things they enjoy and get excited about.  It’s often a sure way to discover a person’s superpower ability when you encourage them to act on their passions and apply it in their work!

3. Instinctive Skills – A Sign of Talent

Instinctive skills are something that is often a great sign of talent but that isn’t always easily recognized.  A talent can lay just out of sight yet related to a skill or action that someone takes or does without ever having been trained or prepared for it.  When this occurs, and they can repeat it, it is definitely a sign of a potential talent.  Musical skills, dexterity, sports, math, etc. can all be somewhat ‘natural’ or ‘instinctive’ to people and when it is, look for that as a talent.  Many of these instinctive skills or traits may actually be related to the talent of the individual, not always that direct skill itself.

Instinctive skills are often discussed around leadership as well, where some individuals are quick to recognize the need for teamwork and cooperation in a challenging situation.  That leadership is often instinctive to a person and is quite likely, a talent.  Is it easy to recognize and develop them if you look at instinctive and natural skills?

Managerial Takeaway: Make sure that you develop natural instinct when you have people who have good gut instinct for decisions, leadership and communication.  If you train and further assess areas of instinctive talent, you will discover talent that you’ll otherwise have to live without!

4. Remove Your Selfish Blinders

Recognizing the talents of other people can often be most difficult since we so quickly make comparisons and judgments based on our own wants and desires.  We must learn to remove and disconnect those selfish blinders though and look more objectively for talent in others.  A colleague up for the same promotion as you, or a competitor in a sport or contest often drives us to disregard their talents in order to push our own egotistical minds above them.  It blocks us from seeing talent and creates fears instead of encouragement.  If you want to be successful at recognizing talent, you must learn to be objective and separate talents from your own desires and see everyone equally.  Quite likely, this is the hardest things of all these 5 ways to recognize talent! (Karl’s note: Jealousy creates a lose-lose situation.)

Managerial Takeaway: As a manager, you must rate yourself by what talents you discover and develop in your team.  If you want to be a great manager, you must look at your teams accomplishments and development as the main metric for considering your own success.  This will enable you to bring many talents from your team to the table instead of only the ones you think you may have yourself, but actually don’t!!!

5. Get Out of the Way of Talent

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Recognizing talent goes beyond what you see yourself and more to what others are able to recognize and evaluate as well.  For this to occur, you sometimes have to get out to of the way of talent and let it surface.  This might have its own sacrifices when it comes to competition or even personally in your own lifestyle or relationships, but if you truly want talent recognized, you have to stop holding it back, whether on yourself or others.  Jobs with strict responsibilities and descriptions are often limiting, rules and guidelines in school, tight regulations or policies and even family boundaries about who does what and how you should behave can be incredibly limiting instead of exposing talent.  Talent being exposed and recognized is typically not the normal behaviors of people and so there are almost always things that get in the way.  Talent is unleashed through creativity and people have to be given some creative freedom to expose their talents and it’s the only way to recognize talent in others.

Managerial Takeaway: You have to let go of control and influence as a manager and let your team operate in their own ways if you ever hope to discover the true talent that exists.  Micromanagement and reports that depend on your every approval and decision is like a noose around your talent.  Let it go, support your team to make their own suggestions and decisions and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you see talents that you were constantly in the way of earlier!

Your Turn

How do you leverage other people’s talents to help people become happier and more successful at work?

Mike is the author of Learn This , a productivity blog for self-learning career, leadership and life improvement tips. He’s written many articles about finding your passion in life, goal setting and many other ideas around learning to have a better and more positive life and workplace. Please subscribe to his RSS feed here or by email to read more of his articles!

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Comments

  1. I would love it all managers would read and heed this. Unfortunately there are just some horses that won’t drink no matter how thirsty they are and how much water has been brought to them. Apologize for the negative input, but an unspoken take-away for workers would be to really analyze your situation and consider options should your management be oblivious to or outright ignore talent and talent development.

    Great post!

  2. Great guest post Mike,
    We do find ways of hiding our talents from the world for many reasons, some not from our own doing as you mention in your article. I no longer work in the traditional sense where I have a manager. When I did I made sure I made my manager aware of my strengths though. We do need to know what our strengths are and then be sure to not hang back in the corner when it comes to letting the right people know.

  3. Being able to identify talent is the most important skill of any recruited. Being able to utilize it is the sign of a good leader.

    When you put both together you have a great entrepreneur.

    I have met many with this skill set and I agree that they all use the above tips.

    Thank you for crystalizing it in this post.

  4. Thanks Karl for the great site to publish this guest post at, I really appreciate it and have always enjoyed so many of your articles.

    @Ed – There is certainly some dependence that others recognize your talent, however, this is every bit of influence in showing talent that can help to reveal it as well. Perhaps that is another whole article, but leading by example and recognizing talent can exist at all levels in an organization, so don’t let management stifle talent when each person can recognize and promote talent among there peers as well!

    @Angela – Thank you for the comment and its absolutely true that it requires each of us to make our talents exposed as best we can as well. That problem of getting out of our own way is a tough one to overcome, but when aware of it, it is much easier to do, you are right!

  5. > Get Out of the Way of Talent
    This is a powerful one.

    The best managers I know are great at unleashing the best in their people and finding ways to grow their talent.

  6. What thoughtful comments you have made here. Thanks for such a succinct summary of these concepts.

  7. Hey thanks JD, and glad to see you here at WorkHappyNow as well. I can tell you it is very satisfying when you can let talent take on something that management often gets in the way of. Its nice when that kind of talent and development of it is available in the workplace….

    @Jean – Thanks so much for that and nice to be introduced to you here and your leadership website!

  8. What an inspiring post. I do believe that sometimes talent is discovered in adverse conditions. I love your site by the way! Keep up the good work!

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