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Does the search for 'talent' actually hold us back from developing our employees?

In my corporate workshops I often talk with participants about taking a coach approach to leadership . Rather than seeing themselves as a leader as a 'heroic' figure, who goes around the organization solving problems, they should consider looking for opportunities to coach and develop their employees so that they can solve problems for themselves. This often prompts at least one participant to ask "but what if our people don't have the talent required to be coached, shouldn't we be focussing only on the high performing employees". Whilst this might seem logical, it brings up the challenge of what happens if we divide employees in our mind into two groups - the talented and by default then, the untalented.

This is one of the themes my co-author Ken Cameron and I talk about in our 5 Star Amazon book 'I Need To F***ing Talk To You - The Art Of Navigating Difficult Workplace Conversations'

What follows is an extract from our book where we consider this specific point....

' People respond to change in different ways. Some embrace change with an enthusiastic “YES” and feel energized, challenged and renewed. Others respond with an outright “NO” and feel drained, challenged and dispirited. Between these two poles, there is an infinite spectrum of response.

Recently Ken mentored briefly under Peter Hinton, a brilliant theatre director who served for many years as Artistic Director of The National Arts Centre of Canada. Peter claimed that he doesn’t believe in “talent”. There is a prevailing belief in society that talent is some inherent mysterious force; you either have it or you don’t. The Ancient Greeks and Roman societies even believed talent was a gift from the

gods. But this idea is dangerously false and even destructive. “If we assume that some actors have talent and others don’t,” Peter explains, “then there’s nothing a director can do for them. I might as well give up.”

Instead, Peter is one of those who chooses to believe that everyone has talent. “Some actors simply have something that blocks them, some internal obstacle that gets in their way. This allows me to assist them by investigating what those obstacles might be. When we uncover it together, I can aid them in removing those blocks so their talent can flow freely.”

I hope you're finding this blog useful. As you continue your leadership journey, don't forget that here at Bluegem Learning we are always here to assist you.

Back to the book ...

'By the same reasoning, if you suppose that some employees “just fit in”, while others simply “aren’t team players”, then there is nothing you can do to coach them. You might as well give up now and begin the process of firing them. And what kind of leader does that make you?

If, on the other hand, you begin to think of your employee as temporarily experiencing a behaviour that is getting in the way of their ability to do a good job, then possibilities for great performance emerge.

Here’s what you need to do. Separate the behaviour from the individual. And here’s why you need to do it.

• It builds empathy. Reframe your unmanageable employee as a colleague who needs support. Then you can reframe yourself as someone who can help.

• It’s constructive. Behaviours are tangible. Now you can generate a list of actual problems to address.

• It’s engaging. Build an action plan that sets them up for success. Their self-interest will get them engaged.

• It’s participatory. When you view them as someone with the potential to transform, you enrol them as partners in change.

Once you separate the individual from the behaviour, you can begin to view your employees as well-intentioned colleagues who are trapped in a cycle that needs to be


If you enjoyed the extract, why not check out the book, co-written with Ken Cameron.

You can now order copies of our book here.

"Sometimes conversations suck, but you need to have them, and this book lays out how. Russell and Ken have put together and road-tested simple, up-front, and thoughtful approaches to awkward and difficult workplace conversations."

Andrew Phung, CBC's Kim's Convenience

Check out our podcast here, new episodes bi-weekly ...

Well that's it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the blog and I'll be back soon with more, until then ... be a leader not just a boss!


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