How to grow your talents to the max!

What is 'talent"? And how does thinking in 'talents' help you to fulfil your objectives?


Marty de Jonge

2 years ago | 8 min read

In the last couple of years we see, hear and read more and more about talent development Where for a long time every organization invested in setting up a detailed competency guide and associated job profile, we switched to
talent managers and talent profiles.

Where did this movement come from? What is talent anyway? And how does ‘talent thinking’ help you to look at yourself, your environment and your work processes differently? In this article, I explore the best practices on the topic of talent development.

What’s a talent?

The word talent is used in two different manners. A lot of people mean by a talent an individual with special qualities, on the field of sports, music, study skills or any other field of expertise.

The past few years there has been a lot of talk about the idea that talent is becoming increasingly scarce and that organizations will have to compete for the best, smartest, fastest
attract and retain employees, ‘The war on talent.’

The idea that talent is something unique and the primarily belief that talent is something you have or have not, reinforces this movement in different organizations. However, we also see another application of the word talent.

Different scientists and professionals in the Netherlands and Belgium state that it’s not a question whether or not someone IS a talent (an individual with special qualities), but rather see that everyone HAS different talents.

Talents are in this case natural patterns in thinking and doing. For example, you are strategic, action-oriented, nurturing, interested, focused on harmony or you always want to get the best out of everything.

Clifton and Buckingham (2001) define a talent as “every repeating pattern of thinking, feeling or behaviour in a productive manner that can be deployed”. Luk Dewulf (2011) adds here that to recognize your own talent is the fact that it takes little or no effort on your part.

Working from your talent is often related to the experience of flow (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990). In this view talent can be separated in:

  • A way of thinking, for example analytical, strategic, positive.
  • A way of acting, for example action-oriented, cautious, social cohesion stimulating.
  • A way of behaving, for example confident, precise, easy contact maker
  • A way of interacting with others, e.g. building bridges, supporting or directing.

Tapping into your talents gives energy (instead of costing energy):
For someone who’s very nurturing and likes to give people a great time, hosting a cosy dinner is not a punishment but an activity where he looking forward to. It is something that he can enjoy, without getting tired of it. When you’re working from your talents, this might physically cost you energy, but mentally it charges you and gives you energy.

How do you make talents visible?

Everyone has different talents but they’re not immediately visible to
others. According to Luk Dewulf (2009) this is connected to two things: behaviour and Context.

Just imagine that you are incredibly creative in coming up with solutions
for tricky issues. Your head just works like that for every problem. You can have up to ten different alternatives and, you always see other possibilities or ideas that haven't been tried yet.

If this means that in every meeting with colleagues you always throw all those
ideas on the table, then chances are they gonna be annoyed... In this case you’ve not yet found the right way to show your talent. Behaviour that others, in a specific situation (context) experienced as effective.

The moment others recognize your talent and experience as positive and effective, we speak of talent in action.

Talent in action = talent + behaviour + context

Do you want to use your talents in such a way that they are effective and that others also experience theses as positive, then it’s worth to explore the situations in which you’re really in your flow, where your gain energy instead of drain energy.

Situations where everything just goes without any effort, the time flies by and you’re actually, without too much bother, putting down something special (maybe for you not special, but that’s how others experience it). This tells a lot about your talent in action.

Are talents innate or learned?

According to the above definition, everyone has multiple talents. These talents are visible early. Think back to your childhood. On how you liked to spend your time back then or how you distinguished yourself in terms of personality from your siblings. That says a lot about what your probable talents are. Because our own talents are so natural to us and cost no energy, they’re often not so special to us anymore.

You often need input from others to realize where your talents lie and recognize them.

When you want to develop a certain activity into a strong point, certain innate talents or gifts are necessary. However, a combination of these talents, with knowledge and skills can make it your strongest score points.

Your talents are innate, but your knowledge and skills have been acquired by
means of experience (Tjepkema, 2009). And what about the things where you’re not as good in? In addition to talents, leverage skills play an important role (Dewulf, 2009; Tjepkema, 2010). Leverage skills help a talent to make it even more productive in a given context.

Or in other words, don’t fall into a trap associated with your talent. For example, someone (as described above) who is so creative and has so many ideas that in a consultation situation, he tends to come up with ideas very quickly, even if this is too soon for those other attendees in the meeting.
Sooner or later this does not correspond to what the situation requires.

In that case, a leverage skill, is active listening, summarize what is said until it is clear what ideas are already on the table before coming up with new ideas.

When will you be at your best?

There’s a difference between being naturally good at something
and really enjoy an activity.
People who are in their element in what they do enjoy it more and perform better too. Sir Ken Robinson describes in his book ‘The Element’ (2011) that four combined factors determine whether someone is really in his or her element; Talent, passion, attitude and opportunity.

  • Talent is about your natural aptitude. I can do this.
  • Passion is what’s important to you. I want this.
  • Attitude is the behavior that shows you to make the
    make the most of your talent. This is what I’m doing.
  • Opportunity is about the extent to which your environment offers you opportunities to work from talent and passion. Does the context bring out the best in you?

The moment someone is in his or her element, that becomes very clear to the environment. They are the moments when you show the best of yourself.
This can be done during a presentation for a large group, in appeasing a conflict between two colleagues, or if you’re trying to analyse a difficult issue
Everything is going well. Time flies. You are very effective

Developing talents

What we know now is that only discovery and acknowledging talents is not enough. For a while this feels good but if you’re not challenged
to develop yourself from your talent beyond this, the boost in self-esteem is short-lived.
We only see a lasting effect on job satisfaction and work performance, if you’re challenged to develop talents further and use them more intelligently in work (or study). By the way, we speak very consciously about talent development, rather than talent management, as you often hear.

Grass doesn’t grow any faster by pulling it.

Talent is not manageable, but fortunately, it can be stimulated. Give people the space to discover when they’re on their best and support them in this process. Safety, transparency, curiosity, genuine interest and attention are essential elements here.

How do I make sure I work more from talent and passion?

The smarter use of talents at work or making sure you’re challenged on your
talents, not only requires something from organizations and executives. There’s especially room to do so for yourself.

Job crafting is based on the principle that employees themselves (consciously or unconsciously) make adjustments to the task content and execution.
In this way, they ensure that the work is done better, matches their talents, passions and abilities.
There are four forms in which you can do Job crafting yourself:

  • Cognitive: You’re challenging yourself to change
    the way you look at a task or situation. The self-chosen slogan of a
    Rotterdam cleaning company is; “We make
    the neighborhood a cleaner pleas” (instead of we clean
    other people’s crap ). That does something to the
    feeling of self-esteem among employees.
  • Task: You are looking for space to do the task itself differently.
    You can often do all kinds of things to take a different approach to activities and make it for yourself (and others) more fun. But also you
    can sometimes choose to don’t do anything.
    For example, more and more people, answer their mail only one
    time a day to have time for those things they really care about.
  • Relationship: You consciously invest in the interaction
    with your surroundings. For example, pull together with
    a buddy who’s got a different talent. Or openly call some things by their name so a tension in cooperating together disappears.
  • Context: You change the physical context. Start
    sooner on the day or later (if you’re not such a morning person
    is). Do a task you ‘hate’ to do in a place that’ll make you happy. for example Take that administration you have to do to a nice lunchroom.

What is the difference between talents and competencies?

The Flemish government made a talent workbook
(2011) and made a distinction here between talent and

  • Talent is innate, enduring, connected with your heart, passion, necessary to make a difference. making it more spacious than organisation and work: also in family, context, leisure.
  • Competence is learned, connected to what is necessary to achieve performance, less sustainable, linked to organisation and

As said, talent in action consists of: talent, behavior and context.

A competence consists of out: behavior and a context.

So if you want to check you’re talking about a competence or a real connection with underlying talents, you can question the attributes of talent.

At the core, it comes down to this: Is it also something that gives your energy
and? After all, a talent is a competence that we have with so much passion and pleasure in practicing it, that we get satisfaction out of it.

Of course in the real world we can not always choose what we want. Every job has certain basic competencies that are really necessary to do your job properly. Not matter if you get excited about it and it is your core talent or not.

But keep in mind, in every job there is room for your own accents, your own interpretation of how to do things and you can use your talents there.
The more basic competencies coincide with your talents, the more likely it is that you’re really in your element’s at work.

Pleasure and performance then come together. However, it’s an illusion that you’re in a job that has only moments of flow. And that’s for the better: If you’re in flow, you don't feel whether you’re tired, hungry or in pain.

For each role you are in, check which basic competencies are and create as much space as possible to carry out the tasks according to your own strength and talents. The appreciative perspective is a way of looking at development based on what is present in the system you are in.

Acknowledgements to Eefje Teeuwisse en Nina Timmermans


Created by

Marty de Jonge

As an agnostic change agent, I am constantly amazed at what happens in organizations and learn every day. Enthusiastic writer and always open for discussion.







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