Make Yourself the Hero of Your Talent Story


2462726290_086e80dab3_nMaybe you don’t want to wait for someone else to come along and make everything right for you. Maybe you don’t want to wait for a golden opportunity or to inherit money from an as-yet-unknown source or to be picked by others to move forward or to wait for your boss to retire or die so that you can advance.

The hero story can belong to all of us, not just a chosen few. It doesn’t matter what your story is or what your circumstances are. If you are seriously stuck and hate your job, or if you are hoping to make more of the satisfying career you already have, the keys are one and the same.

No matter who you are or what your situation is, it all comes down to one point: you always have a choice. You get to decide how you are going to play out your talent story and your role in it. Unless you default and give the power to someone else, it’s yours to decide.

When we make choices that are in accord with our hopes and desires, we generally feel good and get a surge of energy and commitment that comes from being in alignment and taking charge. This is not to say that we won’t have to deal with tough situations along the road. We all do. But when we hold true to our hopes, we can take the bumps.

Here are the elements to be the hero of your talent story.

Heroes have hopes.

Heroes have hopes and are willing to do what it takes to realize them. Every hero has fears too. Heroes confront their fears and act on their hopes. If they are on course and confront obstacles, they use their talents to find a way to deal with them. However, in the end, they keep moving forward.

Heroes recognize opportunities.

Heroes look for opportunities. Where others see dead ends, heroes see possibilities. When heroes see inroads, they take them. If they don’t see a way in, they enlist others to help create new solutions.

Heroes act.

Even when others are afraid to get involved and prefer to play it safe and watch from a distance, heroes find ways to make steady progress toward their objectives.

It’s important to note that heroes are not rabid risk takers. While they are willing to try new approaches, they (or the people who support them) usually have a keen sense of risk and opportunity. Indeed, some of the biggest risk takers, Silicon Valley venture capitalists, focus on how to wring risk out of new ventures to help them succeed. Therefore, we’re not suggesting that you bet the farm to develop and apply your talent. It’s your story. You’ll get to write it how you wish. We will help you to explore the healthy stretches that can lead to heroic results for you.

For now, think about how you’d like to become the hero of your talent. Thousands of people have enjoyed creating their hero stories in Talent Catalyst Conversations with generous listeners. You can too.

Photo by: Hoszi

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Posted in Talent in the Workplace

4 Great Categories to Include in Your Talent Action Pack


The Daily Talent Action Pack effectively breaks your bigger projects into bite-sized actions. Using the Daily Action Pack will provide you with a form of accountability, give you helpful reminders, and encourage you to fulfill your hopes.

The Daily Talent Action Pack is a group of actions that you take each day, at least five days per week, that when completed, add up to realizing your hope. It establishes the consistent actions you need to accomplish what’s truly important to you. It also gives you a way of completing your work each day with a sense of progress and pride.

Here are four great categories to include in your personal “Pack.”

1. Productivity Actions. These include all items that end with you having produced something: writing, coding, designing, planning, fixing, planting, developing, etc.

1. Marketing Actions. These include all items that have you spreading your message: calls, mailings, videos, blogs, web-site updates, personal interactions, etc.

1. Research Actions. These include all items that increase your knowledge and awareness of your market, your industry, your skill set, your place in the world, etc.

1. Self-Care Actions.  These include all items that ensure your ability to be at your best mentally, emotionally, and physically: eating well, exercise, meditation, rest, de-stressing, self-expression, etc.

We encourage you to start small and expand your Talent Action Pack up as you go. It’s better to have fewer items and win each day than feel like you’re always running behind.  Consistency will win the day.

 Photo by: Manuel Quiroga 


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Posted in Talent Exercises

Why Should an Employer Choose You?

4607148434_f33c3962d7_mMany job applicants make a big mistake in their interviews. They make the job interview about themselves rather than about the job.

First and foremost, employers want to know how you are going to help them — not what’s great about you. Sure, you want them to be excited about you and your accomplishments. In order to captivate their interest, however, employers need to know that you understand their requirements. They also need evidence of how you can help.

Under the pressure of a job interview, you need a clear approach to make your case. A proven formula for this discussion is what we call Intention, Observation, Request, and Confirmation. The Intention creates a bridge between what they want and what you have to offer. The Observation gives them concrete evidence of how you have delivered. The Request states clearly what you want in terms of an opportunity to contribute. Finally, you use the Confirmation to see if you are on track and to outline the next steps.

You’ll benefit from writing out your thoughts on these four critical elements. (There are examples on pages 102-103 of “Take Charge of Your Talent.”)

Ask someone to listen to you express your request. Practice until it feels easy and natural for you and your listener confirms that you’re ready to go.

Getting what you want isn’t difficult … if you know how to ask.

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Posted in Talent Exercises

Recovering from a Layoff or Firing

Sad businesswomanDo you know someone who has been laid off or fired? In today’s economy, most people know someone in this situation. Perhaps, it’s you.

It turns out that the old adage, “You need to get your head screwed on right” actually has a foundation of truth in it. When someone is laid off or fired, fear sets in and robs them of their best thinking. Brain scans show that fear drives metabolism to the amygdala (“fight or flight”) and leaves the creative and productive thinking parts of the brain (pre-frontal cortex and cerebral lobes) starved. It’s similar to someone going into cardiac arrest. They need a spark to bring them back to life.

How can this happen for the laid off person? The key is to bring a jolt of fresh thinking. This comes with someone serving as a talent catalyst — a generous listener who nourishes the stricken person’s brain with questions that kick start their better thinking.

Instead of dwelling on the loss, a Talent Catalyst Conversation focuses on the person’s hopes for his or her career and why those are important. Repeatedly, we’ve seen the power of these simple questions and additional ones that help people gain an awareness of the many resources and opportunities around them. With their better thinking engaged, people begin to create a pathway out of their despair.

Don’t let someone dwell in misery. You can ask valuable questions that will help bring the person’s career back to life.

 Photo by: John_2

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Posted in Overcoming Obstacles

Connect with What Your Emotions Have to Tell You

7649260168_d741f34dfb_nThe first questions in a Talent Catalyst Conversation are “What are your hopes for your talent?” and “Why are they important to you?” These questions serve as the beginning of an incredibly useful exercise.

However, there is another dimension behind the “Hope” questions worth paying attention to by both the Talent Catalyst asking the questions and the Talent Hero responding to them. It’s the dimension of emotions. You can think of the words someone says as the melody of a song. The emotions are like the rhythm. Both contribute powerfully.

For the Talent Catalyst: We encourage you to reflect what you are hearing and that means listening to more than the words. When answers are accompanied by emotions, reflect the emotions as well.  Emotional Intelligence studies indicate that the expression of these emotions may be valuable clues to where this conversation wants, and needs, to go.  By reflecting the emotions you are hearing, you are giving that emotion validity. You are tacitly granting permission for the Hero to include it in her or his story.

For the Talent Hero: Many of us were taught not to display our emotions in public.  Even in a Talent Catalyst Conversation with a trusted companion, we may find ourselves wanting to pull back from or hide an emerging emotion. In this context, however, the emotion may be just the “juice” your talent needs to burst into the open and create a powerful Hero Story.

Here are several common emotional responses that are worth exploring:

1.The Big Grin…When you talk about your hopes, you find yourself grinning from ear to ear, and your Talent Catalyst notices it as well. If you follow that grin, it can lead you to make some great choices for your talent.

2. The Moist Eye…Maybe you find yourself welling up and fighting back the tears. Perhaps these are tears of inspiration or signs that the hope has been buried too long or that it is connected with a pain or wound from your          past. There is no need in this context to explore the root cause, but honoring its presence can create the clarity you need to express yourself fully.

3. The Fire in the Belly…This could be passion, frustration, and even anger that is associated with deeply held beliefs and values. There is power in these emotions that can lead you to places you’ll never find by playing it cool.

You’ll notice that these emotional responses are not just about feelings. They also have physical sensations. They are tangible reminders that we are fully human and that our talent lies in that humanity.


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Posted in Talent Exercises

March Madness – Talent Leadership in Action

don an jay bballWell, Jay, are you getting into March Madness?

You bet, Don. I spent Sunday at my local college basketball tournament championship game. And we won!  It was quite amazing.

What was amazing about it?

Besides capping off an amazing season, it was a dramatic lesson in bubble up talent development.

Now I’m interested. Tell me more.

This is the current head coach’s fifth season.  He replaced a real top-down “stick and carrot” kind of coach. You could see the old coach stomping up and down the sidelines screaming in the faces of the young players when they made mistakes. The result was an underperforming team with one or two “star” players who took most of the shots.

How is the new coach different?

The new coach emphasizes certain key inner qualities like humility, passion, unity, and service.  Everybody is asked to play defense. Everyone is asked to contribute what they have to contribute. I would be hard pressed to single out any one star player on the team.

How did that impact the talent on the team?

I can give you two specific examples. Joe was the team’s leading scorer last year.  There was lots of talk about him being a great NBA prospect.  Now this was his senior year; the year for him to shine, to impress all the pro scouts. But instead of focusing on being “the man,” he chose humility, passion, unity and service.  He scored fewer points per game, but his team finished as one of the #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.  He was also named the MVP of his conference tournament.

Sounds like an impressive young man.

He is.  Perhaps the most impressive story I heard about him this year happened early in the season right after they lost a game by 25 points.  He and another senior on the team went to the coach and asked what they could do help turn things around and play up their potential. The coach didn’t tell them to shoot better or play harder.  He reminded them of the key inner qualities that would make them a solid team, and the young men, to their credit, modeled those qualities for their teammates.  After that, they won every game but two for the rest of the season.

So this really speaks to the Inner Quality tools that we urge people to consider in Key#2 of Take Charge of Your Talent.

It does.  I’d love to tell you about one more young man on the team.  His name is Tevan. Last season he was often a starter and played 405 minutes; the equivalent of 20 full games.  This year he was replaced by a freshman and got to play only 121 minutes, many of those at the end of the games, when the result was already determined.  [D1] Imagine how devastating that could be. Can you imagine what would happen in a business setting where a person was moved from the executive team to be someone in the office bullpen?  The loss of status alone would drive a typical person either out of the organization or into a very dark space.

What did this young man do? 

He became the team’s chief cheerleader.  Whenever they got into a huddle before the game or in a key time out, there was Tevan expressing himself fully: grinning, dancing, chanting…giving it all he could.

I can see why you had such an amazing experience.

It really confirmed our message leadership is critical in talent fulfillment.  But that leadership doesn’t have to come from the top.  It can come from anywhere and everywhere: from the coach, manager, CEO, a star player, and even from the guy on the bench.

 Photo by: Haml

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Posted in Overcoming Obstacles

All Incentives Are Not Created Equal

The primary reason that people work is to buy stuff for their families: food, shelter, healthcare, schooling, etc. If people can get some of that stuff without working, we don’t expect as many people to work.
University of Chicago economist Casey B. Mulligan

incentive blogThere has been a great deal of discussion recently about the impact of the Affordable Care Act on U.S. workers. Statistics from the Congressional Budget Office indicate that as many as 2 million people may stop working because they can afford to get health insurance someplace other than their job. Many people have decried this as being a disincentive to work.

Our intention here is not to provoke a political debate, but rather to raise the question: Why do we want the people we employ, or manage, to work? What kinds of incentives are the best fit for our values and our culture?

Do we want to use immoral, and sometimes illegal, incentives such as torture, bribery, and blackmail? We’ll assume the answer is “No, ” even though we are aware that these practices may occur in situations as disparate as domestic politics, foreign industries, and piracy on the high seas. These kinds of incentives violate the values that nearly all of us hold as primary to living in a civilized culture. That’s why we’ve made their practice illegal.

Let us, for now, focus on the two most common types of incentives used in organizations today: punishment and reward. Not only are these types of incentives common, they also are very familiar. They are the kinds of incentives we may have experienced as we were growing up. Be a good boy and get a cookie. Be bad and you’re grounded. Be a good student and get an “A.” Be a poor student and go to summer school or be demoted to a lower track.

We confess to using some of these types of incentives on occasion with our own children and our pets. They certainly seemed, at the time, to be the quickest way to incent the desired behavior.

Here’s the rub. When we fear punishment, we focus on consequences, not on our own values. So we do what we need to do in order to avoid physical pain or the psychological pain of limited freedom, or loss of status. Is it any wonder that so many employees have victim stories if their incentive to work is the fear that they won’t be able to provide the most basic survival services for their family?

Using fear of punishment or loss of survival essentials as an incentive is not going to make any organization a long-term winner.

What about rewards? Studies have been researching this question for 30 years. It seems that incentive rewards can buy temporary compliance but do not change intrinsic motivation. Indeed, rewards can distract from results by focusing people on such issues as “how do I get this quarter’s bonus?” They can likewise discourage innovation and creativity.

In Take Charge of Your Talent, we lay out an effective approach to incentivizing employees that focuses not on punishment and reward but rather on encouraging intrinsic motivation: the desire for positive self-expression.

Since we assert that talent is self-expression, does it make sense to try and boost the use of talent with implied threats and rewards or by encouraging the clarification of hopes and pursuit of those hopes?

So, if 2 million people leave their jobs because fear was their only incentive, what’s to be done? What would happen if we focused on supporting them in using their talent to the fullest; to express themselves in ways that promote their values and contribute to a basic shift in why they work.

So we return to the primary question: Why do you want the people you employ, or manage, to work? Do you want them to work to avoid pain or work to pursue fulfillment? Do you want them to work to keep their jobs or to express themselves?

All incentives are not created equal.

Photo by:  Oleander

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Posted in Overcoming Obstacles

Are You Enabling Victims or Encouraging Heroes?

Okay, generous listeners, this one is for you.

don and jay blog In Take Charge of Your Talent, we make a big deal out of the distinction between a “Hero” story and a “Victim” story. Obviously we favor a hero story because it is filled with possibilities of how you can put your talent in play, not explanations and excuses of why you can’t.

And yet, when you listen to people in everyday situations, you are likely to hear a great many victim stories about how circumstances are responsible for results.  These are often simple stories like, “Sorry I was late. There was a lot of traffic on I-64.”  Sometimes they are more emotionally charged like, “I can’t believe she got the promotion instead of me.  Everything is so political around here.”  They can even turn into life-defining limiting beliefs like, “Nobody ever appreciates me.”

Victim stories, as human as they are, can have devilish impacts on our lives.  Left unchecked they can become malignant agents that kill our hopes and swallow up opportunities before we can even recognize them.

Given this human situation, what’s the best way for a generous listener to relate to a victim story?

Well there are some obvious “no-nos.” Judging, belittling, fixing, and making fun of other people clearly do not fall under the heading of “generous.” All of these approaches are more likely to add credibility to the victim story rather than diffuse it.

If you’re reading this, it is likely that you have a generous spirit. Therefore, it’s critical to recognize that your ability to turn that spirit into supportive action often depends on recognizing the profound difference between sympathy and generous listening.

When you express sympathy you are communicating what you feel and think about his, or her, current situation.  Sympathy might sound like:

I can’t believe that happened to you. Yes, you’re right; the politics are out of control.

 Can you hear that, even though sympathy may come from a generous place, it still adds credibility to the victim story?

When you express non-judgmental generous listening, you are communicating to the other party that you appreciate, very specifically, what she, or he, might be feeling and thinking in this present moment. Non-judgmental generous listening might sound like:

I hear your disappointment. You’re concerned that people are being promoted for reasons that you feel aren’t related to their hard work.

Do you hear the difference? The generous listening gives the victim an opportunity to hear his or her story and reflect upon it without external judgment.

So if you’ve been exercising sympathy for the devil that is a victim story, try adopting the benefits of non-judgmental generous listening instead. If you attempt to convince someone to shift from victim to hero you are likely to experience strong resistance.  Generous listening acknowledges what gave rise to the victim story in the first place: the real, human feelings and thoughts of the individual. It is in this place of true understanding that the grip of the victim story can begin to organically loosen and create an opportunity for the hero to reemerge. That’s the power of generous listening.


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Posted in Support

Listen to Your Generous Listener

take-charge-19-nobookSome people like to hear themselves talk.  Some people like to hear others talk. If you truly want to take charge of your talent, then take the time to listen to what the listener has to say.

No, this is not a Zen Koan.   We’ve already established that one of the most powerful things you can do to take charge of your talent is to have a generous listener. A generous listener is there for you with an open heart, expresses an authentic interest in who you are, and reflects back to you what he or she is hearing.

To take this dynamic to the next level, make sure that you are attentive to what your generous listener is telling you. Listen to the listener.

Do you remember the game of “Telephone” where several people sit in a circle and one by one a message is whispered in the ear of the next person to the right.  The fun is in hearing how distorted the message can become in 10 contiguous tellings.

A great dialogue with a generous listener can work like a game of “Telephone” in reverse.  Instead of the message deteriorating and distorting, it can blossom, be refined, clarified, and transformed into fresh possibilities for your talent.

The generous listener may hear you in ways you had never imagined. Sometimes you may need to correct a misunderstanding, but at other times what the listener has heard can be a revelation.

“I didn’t realize I was so passionate about that.”

“Do I really sound like a victim?”

“Oh boy, I am using the word ‘should’ all the time.”

Having a generous listener is a great gift.  Be gracious. Be smart. When someone takes the time to offer their listening, listen to what they have to say.

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Posted in Talent in the Workplace

A Valentine’s Gift for Your Talent

don and jay valentines blogWhat are you planning to get your special someone for Valentine’s Day? There’s always the sensuous pleasure of a box of chocolates or the visual rapture of fresh flowers. How about an expensive fragrance that turns heads and transforms bystanders into willing puppets to your every whim?

Beyond the TV and magazine ads for the products that say “I love you and I’m not very original,” there is a gift that can be just as sensuous as a box of chocolates, brighten your day more than a bouquet of flowers, and have a longer lasting impact than an exotic perfume: generous listening.

As a generous listener, you give your special someone your full attention. You engage your curiosity, suspend judgments, and seek to understand both the meaning and the motivation of what you are hearing. You inhibit your instincts to comment, suggest, and advise. Instead, you focus on reflecting what you are hearing.

Want to make it romantic?  Wrap a little note in a small box with a ribbon.  Express your love and offer to give your special someone a specific amount of generous listening: 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes…true love might even qualify for an hour’s worth.  OMG!

Let them pick the time or times and be there for them when they ask for it. When they do ask, find a quiet place where you can be comfortable facing each other. Make some body contact: hold hands, put hands on shoulders, even hug.  Then ask a simple question like “What would you like me to hear?”  Stay in generous listening mode until the end of the agreed upon time.

So what says, “I love you” better than a box of chocolates?  Generous listening!

If this is what you do with your special someone every day, go ahead and get the chocolates.

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Posted in Talent Exercises features “3 Keys to Unlocking Employee Talent”
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