Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

The Role Leaders Play In Discovering Your Organization’s Hidden Talent

Whether you’re a fan of the NBA or not, it’s hard not to take notice of the story of Jeremy Lin, a basketball player who in two weeks went from being the back-up for the back-up players, to a celebrated point guard for the New York Knicks. In most business circles, Jeremy Lin’s story has served as a powerful reminder of the hidden talent that lies dormant in so many teams and organizations, waiting for that moment when they can finally bring their talents out into public view.

Unfortunately, the key point that’s not getting enough attention is the role leaders play in finding and developing such talent within their workforce. Specifically, how it’s up to an organization’s leadership to create an environment where such hidden talent can not only be discovered, but encouraged to thrive and bloom.

Consider, for example, the fact that Lin hadn’t received a basketball scholarship, he wasn’t drafted after he graduated from Harvard, and he was cut by two other NBA teams before he got the third-string position with the New York Knicks. In each of these cases, what we’re seeing is not simply an oversight in discovering Lin’s hidden talent. Rather, what’s at play is a failure in leadership to provide opportunities which would have allowed Lin to demonstrate his abilities.

Although the article “What Makes a Good Boss” is meant to highlight the traits and behaviours necessary to be an effective leader, the skills and attributes shared in this piece also serve to remind us of the role leaders play in discovering and nurturing hidden talents like Jeremy Lin within their organization. Here are two in particular which help to illustrate this point:

1. “It’s their careers too”
Given the amount of attention and good publicity Jeremy Lin is creating for his team, it’s not surprising that many organizations are eager to find ways to discover their own as-yet undiscovered “stars” who might propel their organization forward.

However, it’s critical to remember that in addition to helping your organization, you also have to find ways to connect your employees’ efforts to what matters to them, so that any initial successes they create can be repeated in the future because they have the internal motivation to keep at it.

2. “Made, not necessarily born”
When it comes to good leadership, there can be little question that those who are successful in this role had to learn how to get there, instead of simply relying on genetics to help pave their way.

Similarly, it’s important for leaders to remember that we can’t simply shine a spotlight on talent potentials and expect them to deliver. Rather, we need to create the right conditions and provide the right opportunities under which they can refine and hone their skills over time.

While the piece “What Makes a Good Boss” will help you to appreciate what it takes to be a good leader, it also provides some important insights on how to set the stage to allow the hidden talent found in your organization to shine.

So what else do you think leaders need to do to find the hidden talent in their organizations?

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8 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | February 24, 2012 by |

  1. On February 24th, 2012 at 12:19 PM andyitguy said:

    If you want to find hidden talent you have to give them opportunities to come forward. Don't always go to the same people when you need something done. Don't foster an environment where people are afraid to take risks. Reward those who step forward even if they didn't deliver as you would have liked. Make your expectations clear and let your team I know that you are available.

  2. On February 24th, 2012 at 3:51 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Absolutely. Leaders need to recognize how the environment and culture they foster impacts what people feel comfortable sharing. If your employees think that if they were to offer a countering idea or suggest an alternative that they'll just get criticized for not towing the company line, they won't step forward.

    Of course, your employees themselves need to have the confidence and assuredness in their own abilities first in order to want to step up to the plate and deliver. But knowing that those in charge want you to succeed and grow makes that first step a lot easier to make.

  3. On February 24th, 2012 at 3:18 PM harold fues said:

    Most leaders are afraid that their hidden talent – when discovered – will outshine them.
    On the other hand, discovered talent, falls into a similar trap – once star stature is obtained – to remember and thank those who discovered them.
    It's just human nature.
    On the other hand, when discovered talent brings in the bucks, like in the X Factor or American Idol, then there is a lot of talent searching and talent grooming going on.
    Perhaps, in an industrial organisation, the talent discoverer should be as well rewarded as the discovered talent.
    That might make a lot of managers VERY interested in bringing undiscovered talent to the fore.
    Harold Fues

  4. On February 24th, 2012 at 3:56 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Harold,

    I think this comes down to what's your motivation, beyond financial compensation and perks. After all, there's been more than enough studies which have shown that money as a motivator plateaus very soon.

    So if managers are afraid that helping hidden talent will somehow negatively impact them, I think the solution is not incentivizing the process as it is connecting how this process helps them. For example, who wouldn't want to have more team members under their leadership who they can trust to take ownership of potential problems and issues, thereby making their boss look good?

    Similarly, for hidden talent to sustain their growth, one has to create that environment where, again, it feedbacks into the system; where their growth doesn't simply benefit them, but the whole team and organization.

    One only has to look at the more prosperous organizations to see that this is exactly the kind of system that's in place, and that they use their culture and values to make sure people understand that this is what's necessary for their continued growth and success.

  5. On February 24th, 2012 at 3:42 PM Jim Matorin said:

    I second the comment before my comment. Tanveer, I am not sure I buy into your analogy to basketball here. NBA teams are smaller in scope, leaders (coaches and management) are closer to everyone, plus there are immediate dividends in that wins equate to saving jobs or playoffs. Organizations are larger and rewards for those that are hidden talent are long term in scope. Consequently I think most leaders in the C-suite are insulated and do what they have to do to make their numbers. Rarely do they take timeout to recognize hidden talent unless it is a direct report they empower.

  6. On February 24th, 2012 at 4:05 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Jim,

    My point here is not trying to equate NBA team organizational tactics to a larger organization; rather, it's a counterpoint, if you will, to so many articles I'm seeing lately that are using the Jeremy Lin story to make the point that leaders need to look within to find their hidden talent.

    While I agree that there's no doubt many hidden talents found in organizations today – one only has to look at the number of newly-minted entrepreneurs that came out from the slew of layoffs over the last few years for proof of that – the problem is that this is a one-sided viewpoint in assuming we just have to 'mine' our workforce for these gems.

    Lin's own experiences show that no one took him seriously until they had no choice but to use him and now they realize what a star player they had.

    As I wrote above, this shows a failure of leadership and so, instead of just hunting for hidden potentials, we need to recognize that leaders themselves have to do evaluate their own role in creating an environment where all of their employees feel empowered to bring their full potentials to their roles.

    From that vantage point, it does become easier to find the hidden talents because your focus does take into account how you can help all your team members succeed, and as Jeremy Lin has done, maybe even surprise you with just how talented they really are.

  7. On March 5th, 2012 at 6:04 AM Radhikesh Sahu said:

    Many newbie leaders are afraid to become a leader because of challenges and risks of a newbie worker…
    Anyways very motivational post …

  8. On March 5th, 2012 at 8:47 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Radhikesh; glad you enjoyed it.

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