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It takes talent to develop talent

No matter what industry your company is a part of and what products and services you deliver, there’s a place where competition is still hard. It’s all about people.

There’s a rapidly increasing digitization and automation that’s changing the way we work, but being a leader and running a company is still a people game and it’s not going away any time soon. This article is for you who is ambitious with your leadership impact and ambitious on behalf of your company and employees.

You’re curious to find the potential that’s around you as a leader every day, but that maybe hasn’t yet been released. You’re willing to look yourself in the mirror and be brutally honest in relation to the areas where you already do it well and the areas where you’ll need to make changes if something else is going to happen.

Spotting potential in people

The task of seeing potential in others is quite simple. You have to be able to see something that doesn’t exist yet and see the potential in your people that they themselves may not see. Easy, right?

Potential is defined by not yet being fully present. There may be small signs that something interesting is on its way, but it is not yet fully realized. You have to imagine what people will be able to do if the right circumstances are in place. In order to succeed, you need to try and be aware of what small changes in tasks and projects do to people, how your thinking and behavior affects their thinking and behavior, and how the bridge between what your company needs and what people are competent to and motivated for looks like.

It also means that the traditional business logic on linear planning and execution does not hold when working with potential. You can’t plan how to unfold potential. You can’t plan what happens when you give an employee a new task that is at the limits of what they can do today. You can’t plan how people respond to new challenges. In short, you can’t plan the potential, you have to work your way forward.

If you reach this realization and accept it, then you’ve made it a long way.

As mentioned, potential is not a linear size. However, there are a number of indicators that can help when you have to spot it. Look for:


How are the employees’ professional and personal abilities in relation to creating the value you want as a company?


What is the employee’s commitment like to what the company is engaged in? Where are the valuable transitions between the company’s objectives and the employee’s objectives of being in the company?  


Is the employee hungry for more? Does the employee have the ambition to make a greater difference for him/herself, his/her colleagues, and your customers as well as for the company?


How (and how fast) does the employee acquire new knowledge and start using it in a valuable way?


How does the employee solve problems and create results with others, and how does the employee build and develop relationships with others


To what extent does the employee investigate with regard to new knowledge and situations that give the opportunity for learning and increased value?


To what extent does the employee seek feedback that not only confirms an existing level but also the feedback showing the next level?

Use the above as a filter when you’re considering potential and as themes you need to think about in developing employees’ potential. Make sure that the tasks and projects the employee is involved in contain opportunities to train these topics as part of solving the task. In this way, you solve company problems and develop potential simultaneously.

The power of yet

When you work with seeing and developing the potential of others, there’s one word that makes all the difference. It is the word “yet”.

If you get used to using “yet” when you look at your employees, you insist that they have potential.

  • She doesn’t succeed in communicating her messages clearly – yet.
  • He doesn’t understand customers’ concerns – yet.
  • She doesn’t deliver high enough quality – yet.
  • He hasn’t shown the level I expect – yet.

If you remove “yet” from the above sentences, there’s a risk that your image of the employee is too fixed and it will be harder for you to see the way forward. However, if you use “yet” consistently, you give yourself (and the employee) the opportunity for something new to happen. That the employee will actually be able to master what is asked for but hasn’t reached – yet.

Empathy is a superpower

Take a picture of all your employees and put them on the table. Look carefully at them and answer the following questions:

  • What exactly is it that gets the individual employee to open door in the morning?
  • Why did they choose to be in your company and with you as a leader?
  • What’s the employee’s individual objectives of being in your company?
  • What are the specific strengths that every single employee possesses that are strategically significant for the company?
  • What pitfalls does the employee have in the way of achieving full potential?
  • What are the main motivational factors that the employee primarily has?
  • What causes the employee to become highly committed?
  • When is each employee absolutely at their best?
  • What does their top performance and top motivation look like and what factors should be present for this to happen?

You will most likely find out that you have a couple of gaps with regard to some of the employees and the questions above and that is okay. Perhaps you have an overall picture of them but probably not a completely in-depth one, which means you something to explore further.

If we can’t answer questions like this we’ll end up with a problem.

This problem has both a business and a human side.

  • The business problem is that you don’t achieve the goals that you actually could achieve, because performance in a company is closely linked to the people in the company and what they choose to bring to work.
  • The human problem is that you only understand a fraction of what actually makes your people think it’s worth doing their best.

The consequences of this include:

  1. That you can create more links between the business critical tasks and your employees’ talents and commitment.
  2. That the dialogues you have with your employees need to be adjusted to focus even more on their objectives, freedom and skills.
  3. That your focus must be sharpened in relation to the underlying reasons that your employees do as they do (or don’t). You need to get closer to them.

One of the prerequisites for this to be able to happen is trust. Do the employees trust you and that you actually want the best for them?

Building this trust can be done, for example, by having a strong connection between what you say and what you actually do afterwards. That you’re able to create relationships with your employees that go beyond the daily tasks and KPIs and that the employees find that you focus on things that are not just about what you want to achieve but also based on where they actually are.

Leadership is about clarity and consistency

The way you think about the development of people and business is a part of the foundation for how well you’ll succeed as a leader. Our actions as leaders don’t occur out of the blue. There is, among other things, a way of thinking and some beliefs that shape what we do in the face of everyday life in the company.

One way to get closer to this is to consider the following:

  • Do you believe that all people, under the right circumstances, can become highly committed and motivated?
  • Do you believe that your role as leader is directly affecting how committed employees are and to what extend they can do what they are best at?

If you answer yes to these questions, you’re ready for the consequences of your answers.

They are the following:

  • If everyone, under the right circumstances, can become highly committed and motivated in their work, but not everyone is today, then there’s something you’re missing. Look at the employees’ freedom in solving tasks, the objective of the task and the connection with the employee’s own objectives for being in the company as well as the employee’s ability to feel competent and get feedback on being competent.
  • Look at the four factors in intrinsic motivation because there is always an answer here. All people are driven by purpose and meaning. They are driven by master. They are driven by autonomy – and they are driven by belonging. If something is lacking today related to engagement and motivation, it is very likely linked to those four elements.
  • If you think that your role as a leader is essential for employees to well and feel well, you cannot delegate this to others. You cannot leave your employees’ talent to HR or external people. It’s your job to see it and develop it in everyday work – and of course, use relevant people around you as inspiration and support, but you are in the driver’s seat together with the employee.


What is your talent footprint as a leader?

What happens on a rainy Monday morning?

Many people have plenty of opinions about what good leadership is and what they believe in. Take it a step further and turn your opinions into actions so that there’s a direct link between what you believe (and know) works and what you actually do at work. You’ll not only stand out, but you’ll also create some different results.

What do your employees look like when they come in the morning and when they go back in the evening? Are they engaged and motivated when they come or is it something that just has to be gotten over with? Do they have drive and desire in their eyes at the end of the day because the day was meaningful and engaging, or do they go out of the door in a worse state than when they came? What is the company’s and your impression of the employees between the entrance and the end of a regular working day?

Do you build or consume talent?

We all spend a great deal of our time at work, why something significant and important should happen at work. If we don’t have really big moments once in a while, then it’s close to being game over. Your role as leader must therefore also be to help your employees achieve the high points of their careers that they otherwise wouldn’t have had if you weren’t their leader. High points where they support the creation of  something valuable that makes a difference, experiences that make them smarter and committed, moments where they doubt their ability but actually experience having more potential than they themselves believe.

That’s excellent leadership and it’s the unique opportunity you have as a leader. You can make significant talent footprint that really go beyond what seemed possible to begin with.

The question is whether it’s interesting for you?

What do you have talent for?

To develop other people’s talent, you have to bring your own into play – so what is your talent as a leader?

What is it that you find easier than others, that you’re often really successful with and are strongly engaged by?

In developing employees’ talent, there is a critical thing that you have to do: As a leader, you want your employees to take the initiative, to suggest new and creative solutions to difficult challenges as well as to be committed and perhaps even passionate about their work.

What kind of leader doesn’t want that?

The hard part about this, is that you can’t demand it. You can’t demand that your employees take the initiative, are creative and committed. You can certainly try, but of course you’ll quickly find out that no one responds particularly well to these demands. So, when you can’t demand these important things, what do you do instead?

One suggestion is that you ask yourself how to make yourself deserving that your employees bring the best they have to work.

In addition, you can benefit from using the following good habits in the development of other’s talent:

Be an experience broker

Build bridges between the tasks you have, and the development needs your people have. Watch out for “just” solving the everyday tasks. It’s not enough if you also want people to develop. Therefore, carefully consider why you give certain tasks to people and what potential development the individual employee can achieve through the specific task or responsibility. Think of any business challenge as a potential opportunity for developing someone’s talent.

Be an experience optimizer

Draw out learning and knowledge from the tasks and situations the employees go through. There’s something to learn in everything, so help employees see these lessons and use them in the future. Supplement with specific feedback that’s both based on what employees are really successful with as well as what they can do even more of.

Be a network facilitator

Put your employees in touch with good people from your network. Be generous with the people you know that can inspire, challenge and support the employees in their development and contribution to the company. You don’t have to do it all by yourself. Use the good people you know.

Be a career champion

Help to create links between what your company and customers need and what employees are really good at and highly motivated by, even if it means that an employee has to move to a different team than yours. Think of talented people from a holistic company view – and not just from a department or team standpoint. 

Friction is part of development

As a leader, if you really want to get the best out of people and work with some of the best, you’ll have to accept a little resistance and that you’ll spend time on other things than you normally do. Talented people are (and must be) impatient, focused on making a real difference, highly driven by goals and meaning, will ask more questions and push for you to move forward (faster). Use it as a quality and as an opportunity to get things done that otherwise wouldn’t be possible without these people on the team. Give them a bigger mandate than you’re immediately comfortable with and be prepared to be surprised at what will happen, because talented people break the boundaries of what we initially thought was possible.

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