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.


 Photo by: mconnors

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Posted in Support

Listen to Your Generous Listener

who is your generous djSome 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.

Photo by: Sgarton



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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

Do You Suffer From the Curse of the Talented?

talent g and j blogMany people think that talented people have it easy. They can do so many things that life must be simple for them. The gifted can just pick and choose. In reality, it’s much more complicated.

Since talented people can do many things very well, they can unwittingly get drawn into things that they don’t especially like to do. For years they’ve been showered with praise and asked to do many things. The recognition and accolades seduce them. But as in the story of Ulysses, they can get drawn off course by the sirens of seduction.

What’s the consequence for talented people succumbing to seduction? They get started and shine like a super nova but burn out quickly — not because they can’t continue but because deep down they don’t really want to continue. The result is they lose interest and underperform. Unconsciously, they may sabotage themselves to get out of something they haven’t acknowledged that they don’t especially want to do.

The key to avoid the curse of the talented is for such gifted persons to plumb what their deepest hopes are for their talent and understand why those are important to them. They need generous listeners to ask them questions and reflect back the responses so that they can hear themselves and separate true dedication from self-deception about “what’s hot.” It’s a simple conversation but a critical one to ensure that they are on their path rather than someone else’s.

Whatever our personal level of talent may be, we owe it to ourselves and those with whom we work to discern carefully what we are called to do. Exercise good stewardship of your talent, and you’ll enjoy your work more and serve others better.

Photo by: Alvimann

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Why Managers are Happier than Non-managers

9501964248_a388be25a8You can be happier in whatever job you have. You don’t need to be at the top of heap to enjoy what you are doing. That may sound surprising, especially given that a recent Pew Research Center survey ( found that managers are more satisfied with their family life, jobs, and overall financial situation than non-managerial employees are. Here’s what we have learned about what drives happiness and how you can thrive.

Use of talent drives happiness.

 Our surveys show a very close link between the amount of talent people have an opportunity to use and their level of job satisfaction. The happiness gap between managerial and non-managerial employees has more to do with the kinds of work people get to do. Bosses tend to take on bigger challenges and use more of their talent. For that, they receive bigger paychecks. It’s not the paycheck that underlies happiness, but rather the individual’s experience that they are using themselves well.

Why many non-managers don’t want to become managers.

 Interestingly, Pew reports that 43% of adults say they would not like to become a manager compared with 39% who say they would. If being a manager creates more happiness, why do workers feel mixed about advancing?

Many more people could become managers and enjoy doing it, IF they could figure out how to navigate some of the challenges of being a boss. One of the most frequently mentioned challenges is giving candid and constructive performance feedback, especially to people who have been peers. They worry about the potential conflict and pushbacks that they might endure.

An effective approach for feedback from managers to employees is Intention, Observation, Request, and Confirmation. Let’s look at an example of a manager frustrated with late reports. Rather than avoid the issue or blow up, here’s a productive path. A clearly stated intention creates a bridge with the other person and establishes a solid foundation for communication. For example, the manager might say to the employee, “Each person on this team has an important role to play. We value your role in completing timely data summaries for our reports and want you to succeed.” Next, is a non-judgmental observation about behavior and results. For example, “When we received your data late, the rest of team didn’t have sufficient time to prepare and polish a quality report for a key decision.” Follow this with a clear request, “Please review your workload, and let’s brainstorm any solutions needed to ensure timely completion of tasks.” Conclude with a clear confirmation of your agreement such as “OK, you’ll send me a copy of your workload and schedule by next Tuesday, and we’ll review it together on Thursday at 1 p.m.”

This example illustrates how simple tools can open the rewards of management and better quality results to more people. As employees learn how to use more of their talent, both they and their organizations will enjoy the results.

Photo by: Salfalko

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Posted in Talent in the Workplace, Uncategorized

Calibrating Your Hope/Concern Balance

Imagine that you have an old fashioned scale on your desk.  On one side of the scale place your deepest hopes; on the other side your chief concerns. What do you notice?

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If the balance shifts too far toward the “Hope” side, you could make unconsidered or even foolish decisions.  If the balance shifts too far to the “Concern” side, you might, too quickly, dismiss your hopes, limit possibilities, and live primarily in a state of fear.

Jimmy had his own business for over 20 years.  For the most part, he enjoyed it.  He’d built a great reputation, had had some good financial successes, and wasn’t ready to retire.  Still, every once and a while, he felt burned out.  At least once a year he could be heard saying, “I’d love a year off; take a Sabbatical like my friend the professor.”  But of course the moment those words left his mouth, they were outweighed by all the reasons why that could never happen.  The concern side of his hope/concern balance was so heavily weighted that it never got off the ground.

It was time for a hope/concern scale calibration.  Was Jimmy’s Sabbatical a true hope…”an idea with an engine?” Or was it merely a fantasy?

This is actually a great question to ask.  Fantasies are wonderful…as fantasies.  When we go to see a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean, we can get engaged in an imaginary world of adventure, magic, daring, and wit.  And that is the fun of it.  Few of us would leave the theater inspired to actually become a pirate.

As it turned out, it served Jimmy to discover whether the Sabbatical was really a hope or a fantasy; whether it was something to hold as a day dream or something that needed to be realized.

Instead of immediately adding all of his concerns to the scale, he allowed himself to sit with his Sabbatical idea as if it were an authentic hope.  He shared it with his wife, who loved the idea.  They imagined where they might like to go, what they would like to learn, how they would like to live.  Images began to emerge: a village somewhere in Europe, bicycles, fresh loaves of bread, strolling in the town square…

Then, as the scale was shifting heavily toward the “hope” side, they began to list their concerns.  What would they do with the animals? What would they do about health care? Could they afford it?  What would happen to Jimmy’s business while they were gone?

As Jimmy and his wife considered all of this together, as a balance of hopes and concerns, the idea began to seem more and more feasible.  They began to consider the business opportunities that Jimmy might uncover, the possibility that renting their home might actually be a moneymaker, that their health care could be consistent.

So how about you?  Does the hope/concern scale on your desk need to be calibrated?



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Posted in Overcoming Obstacles

“Three Crucial Steps to Making a Big Career Change”

7246988204_cf515a71aa_nHave you been thinking about chucking your current career and striking out in a different direction? Do you know someone who is on the precipice of a big leap in a new direction? Protracted economic woes and a free-agent job culture have made many people think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. It very well might be, but you’d do well to take these three crucial steps to make your move a smart one.

1. Be sure that you are running to something not running away from something. Frequently, people want to pull the rip cord and parachute out of their current career into something totally different because they haven’t dealt with issues in their current career. And, surprise, surprise, those issues dog them into their next career endeavor. For example, difficulties dealing with a challenging boss carry over when the person strikes out on her own and has to deal with a challenging client. Are you running from something that you need to learn how to navigate?

2. Be clear about your hopes (not someone else’s) for your next step.
Figure out if your passion is a flash in the pan or the real thing. Sometimes we become attracted to something because it’s the “hot new thing” to do or what others expect of us. Enduring success requires connection with your deepest hopes. With someone serving as a generous listener for you, answer the question, “What are your hopes about your talent?” But, don’t stop there. Go deeper. Answer, “Why are those hopes important to you?” When you plumb the depths of your hopes, your development will become more focused and authentic. With this foundation, you’ll have the clarity and energy to accelerate through obstacles and multiply the payoffs for yourself and others.

3. Explore multiple options to zero in on the right fit for you.
Think of making a career change is like getting the right prescription for your eye lenses. You need to compare several choices to know if you have the right match. Unfortunately, some people become so enamored with their first idea that they don’t consider other choices much less look or listen for potential shortcomings. They just want to make their dream come true. If, however, you have three possibilities to consider, you can track which one sustains your interest and attracts resources and which ones fade over time. You’ll be more open to helpful input from others and make a more rewarding choice.

In today’s environment, almost everyone will have multiple careers. So, it’s not so much whether you make career shifts but how you make them. Take time to honor yourself and sort through what fits for you.

Photo Credit: Bhavesh

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7 New Year’s Resolutions for Career Success in 2014

11713614355_80fd701e47_nFollow these resolutions to enjoy a fulfilling 2014.

1.  I will connect with my deepest hopes. Fears block your best thinking. Your hopes encourage creative, constructive outcomes. Surround yourself with people and objects that remind you of your hopes. Choose your hopes over your fears. 

2. I will get my “but” out of my own way. Every time you express your hopes and add a “but” about why you can’t realize them, you drain your own energy and squash possibilities. Every obstacle you encounter is an opportunity to use your talent, not to negate it.

3. I will craft an inspirational story with myself in the lead. When you tell the story of where you are and where you want to be at the end of this year, what character are you playing? Are you a victim, a bystander, or are you the hero. We live by the stories we tell, so tell a good one.

4. I will grab opportunities to grow. Chances are that in order to realize your hopes for the new year you are going to need to learn and grow. Be willing to let go of some things to become more.

5. I will complete the 100 Resource Challenge. All of your accomplishments come through productive use of your resources: the people, places, and things that surround you. Start a master list of the resources you see; add to it daily until you reach 100. No matter limited you may feel, there are many resources you can tap.

6. I will use my resources to the fullest. Make sure you get the most from each of your resources. Learn what your technology can do for you. Tap into the skills you enjoy using. Make big requests of others. People love to contribute. Give them lots of opportunities.

7. I will challenge myself to stretch. Think of what you are comfortable doing and then go a little further. Find that place where excited meets nervous. Stretching increases your vitality and your sense of what’s possible.

Share these resolutions with a coworker, friend, or family member to help you stay on track. The thousands of people who have followed these resolutions with the aid of generous listeners (we call them Talent Catalysts) have gained fresh perspectives and now live bigger, richer lives.

Make 2014 your best year yet!


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