In my twenty-two years as a career counselor, I learned something astonishing: Most people don’t know what they’re good at. And that’s no way to win at work.
Part of the problem is that our abilities are so close to our essence, we tend to see right through them. To use an analogy, she can’t really focus on her hand when it’s plastered to her face; instead, she looks through blurry fingers. When she does gain a glimmering of her greatest strengths, she often discounts it. Maybe she believes that if she’s good at something, then it’s no big deal. Or she might assume that if something comes easily to her, then it comes just as easily to everyone else.
My point is that talent is easy to miss. Especially from the inside. That’s why talent needs someone on the outside, a mentor like you. And mentoring another person’s talent, as you’ll see below, is win-win-win.
The first win.
By talent, I mean an individual person’s power for problem solving. Her talent—being able to learn something more easily than others—provides her with a competitive advantage. For example, someone with high aptitudes for finger dexterity and hand-eye coordination would more quickly pick up the manual skills required in dentistry. (She’ll also be less likely to gouge your mouth while filling a cavity).
Furthermore, using natural abilities feels good and enhances self-esteem. The person who develops her aptitude as a dentist will feel fabulous when her patients appreciate her work and make referrals. She can become superb at solving certain kinds of problems and earning the financial rewards. In talent mentoring, the first win is for the protégé.
The second win.
Our workforce desperately needs skilled employees who begin their task with appropriate training and then continue to learn. Apparently that’s so rare that competition for talent has gone global. As a past president of the National Career Development Association told me over lunch,
“The mediocre and the passionless are in a bad place.” — Rich Feller
Sadly, a recent Gallup poll found that an alarming seventy percent of workers in the United States are disengaged. We can do better than that! With more thoughtful talent development, a much higher percentage of the workforce would be well suited to their work, appropriately trained for their jobs, and fully engaged in solving problems for their employer.
Let’s say your problem was tooth decay, and the solution was a root canal. You’d hope the dentist you hire could reason well with the knowledge she gained in dental school. You’d pray that she actually wanted to help patients to the best of her ability. And you’d be delighted to find that her procedural skills were simply stupendous. The second win is for the wider world.
And the third win?
Research shows that those who mentor the younger generation tend to be the most resilient. As authors Brooks and Goldstein observed in The Power of Resilience,
“The act of contributing to the knowledge and welfare of others enhances our sense of connectedness and resilience at any age. If we are to form meaningful relationships and discover our own sense of worth, we must actively seek opportunities in which we enrich the lives of others. In the process we enrich our own lives.”
In short, mentors can make a phenomenal difference for their protege while also making themselves happier. The third win is for you, the mentor.
Future posts will help you recognize strengths when you see them, ferret out talents that may currently be hidden, set learning challenges at the just-right level, suggest appropriate educational options, and nurture the talents of your child, grandchild, student, employee, or whomever. Such actions create so many ways to win.