TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR TALENT
Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life
By Don Maruska Jay Perry
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2013 Don Maruska
All right reserved.
Chapter One BE YOUR OWN HERO
Strive to live the ordinary life in an extraordinary way. RALPH BLUM
Your talent lives inside a story. Everyone has a story about his or her talent—what it is, how he or she has used it, and what's gotten in the way. Your story works either for you or against you. It's a story of limitation or a story of possibility: the tale of a victim or the tale of a hero. The victim story is one of fear, moving away from new possibilities, being stuck, and staying put. The hero story is one of hope, obstacles overcome, and action. It is a story of new chapters, fresh energy, getting unstuck, and taking charge. At some time or another throughout our lives, we have all probably played both roles, knowingly or not.
Since no one wants to be the victim of his or her story, it's good news that the hero story can belong to all of us, not just a golden few. Most of us think of heroes as those extraordinary people who have almost magical abilities. Capes and super powers may even come to mind. For this book's purposes, when we talk about being the hero of your talent story, we refer to everyday heroes—people who take action in the face of their fears and move toward their hopes to enjoy practical results.
RECLAIM THE POWER IN YOUR STORY
It may seem strange to think of your talent as a story. You may be saying to yourself, "My situation isn't just a story. It's the hard and cold reality that I live." That's true. The facts are what they are. But pause for a moment to consider the idea that your interpretation of those facts is a story. Changing your interpretation can make all the difference.
Between coaching and delivering talent development workshops, we have met thousands of people and have heard their stories. Let's look at the situations of some typical people who began with some frustration about their circumstances or hunger for change and transformed their stories using the keys in this book:
Fran: "I want to be a supervisor and know I'm ready, but the supervisory job opportunities require prior managerial experience. I'm stuck."
Sheila: "I want to work on bigger projects that will bring more value to our business, but as a financial services manager, my plate is so full and I've pushed my team so far that I don't see any way. I can't spend more time at work; my family would really suffer, and so would I."
Miguel: "I have much more that I could contribute to our IT firm, but rising higher in the leadership would compromise time with my family and require me to be too political. I'll keep my head down and continue plugging away at my current role. I guess it's better to be a little bored."
Nadia: "I've been given a great opportunity to restructure our health care organization and want to take advantage of it, but I'm struggling to lead the way I want to."
Ben: "I really wanted this job and started with lots of energy and ideas, but now I'm totally at the mercy of the bureaucracy. I want to teach and show the kids that learning is great, but how can I do that with all the regulations and tests?"
Kim: "I'm not sure I have the talent to pull off this presentation. What am I doing on the same stage with these expert scientists and this CEO? I will probably fail and look stupid."
Tony: "My problem is that everyone just sees me as a police chief, when I feel ready for broader opportunities in local government. I can't break out to grow."
Jesse: "Many people envy my position, but the fact is that I'm a little bored. Unless my boss dies or retires, this is it."
Do you see something of your situation in any of these stories, or maybe in several? What does your story read like at this time?
Each of these stories is true in the sense that the circumstances are real. In fact, the stories provide some comfort for the people who hold them. They describe circumstances—situations, other people, or even requirements—that keep these persons from greater fulfillment of their talent. It gets them off the hook for taking responsibility. As a result, they have a ready response to coworkers, friends, and family members who ask, "What's happening with your job?" The answer is simple: "I'm stuck." In fact, they may even find sympathy from others. They might hear comments like "Yeah, the requirements are unfair. How could anyone expect you to move forward?" "Boy, the economic downturn is really hitting your business. You're lucky to just hold on to what you have." "You do have an overwhelming workload. I don't know how you do it."
Thus, there are many reasons for people to hold on to their stories and to keep their circumstances fixed, even immutable, in their minds. But is that how these stories must continue or, worse, end? Are the characters—are you—stuck in a rut without hope for change?
In each of these talent stories, people have given their power to someone or something else. Indeed, they have become merely players in the stories about other people, their organizations, or economic circumstances.
To create new and more fulfilling chapters in your talent story, you need to take back the lead, the power, of your story. You need to be your own hero. In fact, you are the only person who can be the hero of your talent story. If you're not the hero of your own story, you simply become a player in one you didn't choose.
Now, many of us don't think of ourselves as heroes. The role sounds too big, too risky, or just not us. That might be true in terms of being a hero on the battlefield, in politics, or while attempting some world-saving feat. However, you can be the hero of your talent story. We'll show you how and give you examples of everyday people who have done just that.
HOW DO HEROES OF TALENT STORIES ACT?
We all love heroes, especially those who rise from being seemingly everyday people. While they may be ordinary folks, something sets them apart. Heroes act differently because they learn to think differently. Heroes are ordinary people who are willing to go beyond their perceived limitations. They see the potential for growth and change in themselves and their circumstances.
Heroes have hopes. Heroes have hopes and are willing to do ethically what it takes to realize them. Every hero has fears too. Heroes confront their fears and act on their hopes. If they are on course and confront obstacles, they use their talents to find a way to deal with them. However, in the end, they keep moving forward.
Heroes recognize opportunities. Heroes look for opportunities. Where others see dead ends, heroes see possibilities. When heroes see inroads, they take them. If they don't see a way in, they enlist others to help create new solutions.
Heroes act. Even when others are afraid to get involved and prefer to play it safe and watch from a distance, heroes find ways to make steady progress toward their objectives.
It's important to note that heroes are not rabid risk takers. While they are willing to try new approaches, they (or the people who support them) usually have a keen sense of risk and opportunity. Indeed, some of the biggest risk takers, Silicon Valley venture capitalists, focus on how to wring risk out of new ventures to help them succeed. Therefore, we're not suggesting that you bet the farm to develop and apply your talent. It's your story. You'll get to write it how you wish. We will help you to explore the healthy stretches that can lead to heroic results for you.
HOW TAKING A HERO'S ROLE CHANGES EVERYTHING
Let's look at how the people you met before might reframe their talent stories in simple, practical ways to become their own heroes.
What if Fran could communicate her hopes to a boss or friend and find a way to begin acting like the supervisor she wants to be, right from where she is?
What if there were hidden opportunities for Sheila to work with her team and delegate responsibilities so she could branch out into using her talent to create more value for herself and the organization?
What if Miguel could rise in the organization without compromising his personal and family values?
What if Nadia were to discover that she is struggling in her new leadership position only because she is trying to be someone she's not?
What if Ben could find a way to stay passionate about his work and remain productive in spite of the bureaucracy?
What if Kim could use her unique abilities and resources instead of comparing herself with others?
What if Tony could document his broader skills and rebrand himself as a leader guiding innovation in tough budget times?
What if Jesse could shift from thinking his career is set to finding new ways to grow?
Do these what-ifs sound plausible to you? Each of them actually happened. Each of them began with an openness to see the current story as something that the person was willing to look at in a new way. Each of them occurred because the person was willing to explore how he or she might become the hero of his or her own talent story.
BE THE HERO OF YOUR TALENT STORY
Maybe you don't want to wait for someone else to come along and make everything right for you. Maybe you don't want to wait for a golden opportunity or to inherit money from an as-yet-unknown source or to be picked by others to move forward or to wait for your boss to retire or die so that you can advance.
Everything we offer in this book is for people who are ready to be the heroes of their talent stories. The hero story can belong to all of us, not just a chosen few. It doesn't matter what your story is or what your circumstances are. If you are seriously stuck and hate your job, or if you are hoping to make more of the satisfying career you already have, the keys are one and the same.
No matter who you are or what your situation is, it all comes down to one point: you always have a choice. You get to decide how you are going to play out your talent story and your role in it. Unless you default and give the power to someone else, it's yours to decide.
When we make choices that are in accord with our hopes and desires, we generally feel good and get a surge of energy and commitment that comes from being in alignment and taking charge. This is not to say that we won't have to deal with tough situations along the road. We all do. But when we hold true to our hopes, we can take the bumps. We'll talk more in depth about that later.
Is your "current" story ironclad? Can any story be changed for the good? Can you really turn it around and create a story that works for you? Evidence shows that anyone can change his or her story permanently. But you'll have to be willing to open up to possibilities.
As the hero of your own story, you are the singular beginning point.
We realize that it may seem daunting to see your talent as a story you can change and to position yourself as the hero within it. Perhaps you are thinking, "You don't understand how limiting my situation is. I truly am stuck, and the tradeoffs feel too big." Or "I'd like to explore these ideas, but this is a whole new way of looking at myself and my career. How do I make this concrete for myself?" Good questions.
The next chapters will make this process clear for you. You'll learn about a carefully designed conversation that in the span of about an hour will enable you to begin dictating the talent story you want to pursue—one with you in the lead. We'll guide you to connect with an appropriate friend, coworker, family member, or acquaintance who will be your catalyst for new insights, opportunities, and actions and will help you to identify resources to realize them. These tools started the people in this chapter on their new paths.
Your talent is a story you can transform. When you position yourself as the hero of your story and follow a clear set of actions to act out that role, your career and life can change and move forward quickly.
You may feel that you want to change your talent story, but since change can be scary, you might find yourself dragging your feet. If so, try this:
Make two lists on separate pieces of paper, one titled "Benefits I See for Keeping My Current Story," the other titled "Benefits I Foresee in Becoming the Hero of My Story." When you are done, read them aloud several times. Then choose which story you want to live by, and post the list in a prominent place. Throw the other list away. The choice is yours.
Chapter Two EXPLORE A TALENT CATALYST CONVERSATION
The basic difference between human beings and other species is that we live in a world that is created by the stories we tell. GEORGE GERBNER
We all need fresh perspective at times—but it's hard to see life in a new light if we are groping around in the dark for the switch. The Talent Catalyst Conversation is the switch to help you to identify new possibilities and shine light on your situation. Amazing things can happen when you decide to engage your talent, and the first step is to recognize that you are the author of a story you can change—for good.
Let's take a look at Ben's story. Ben felt as if his life were set in stone. "I dreamed of being a teacher and helping others get ahead like my teachers helped me years ago. But I had no idea that I'd be struggling under the administrative details, standardized test pressures, and internal politics that consume so much of my energy and sap my passion for this job. My teaching job pays OK, and if I can stick it out to retirement, I'll have a decent pension. I guess I'll just keep my head down and gut it out, but that feels like giving up on myself and my dreams."
Ben's not alone. We hear stories from people in corporations, government agencies, hospitals, and small businesses who face similar challenges. They are the walking wounded—capable and motivated people who feel held back from pursuing their hopes and aspirations. They worry that their vigor and spirit is slowly dying in them, but it's not clear what they can do to halt the process. Many people try to console them: "Hey, welcome to the real world." Loved ones may feel anxious for them and even for themselves: "Look, it keeps a roof over our heads and food on the table. In this economy, you don't want to rock the boat." Yet others rail against the machine: "You ought to organize and fight back. Show them that they can't boss you around." While any one of these responses is reasonable and human, they don't change the everyday reality for people like Ben or give him something he can do right now to make a positive change.
The fifty minutes that Ben spent in his Talent Catalyst Conversation opened new energy, new ideas, and actionable opportunities for him. Instead of cramming down the hopes and dreams that drew him to his work, the Conversation started with an exploration of his hopes and why they are important to him. Ben commented, "I can't remember anyone else asking me about my hopes, at least not in a work setting. All that people typically talk about around here are the performance expectations they have for us and our students. I really felt myself becoming alive again."
He remembered the eagerness and energy he previously had for the profession. He also remembered his successes during college in gracefully navigating the bureaucracy of local government and village politics to get a community center built in a struggling African city. Most important, the questions invited him to identify ways to translate his talent for engaging disadvantaged students in programs he could offer to other teachers and school systems hungering for fresh material—and to earn some extra money for himself as well. "I realized that I have insights and experiences I can package into something tangible that others will value. I realized I can do more of what makes me passionate about this profession."
Did Ben's efforts change public school policies? No, but as his talents flowed, he gained more energy and even joined a task force on school reform. He got the programs for disadvantaged students up and running—and administrators around the county were taking notice. "I'm feeling charged up again. I feel like I'm making a difference and have my old 'get up and go' again."
Will your Conversation have the transformative effects that Ben and many others have enjoyed? We're confident that it will, but you'll soon find out for yourself. We simply want you to see enough potential that you are willing to connect with a Talent Catalyst and experience the Conversation for yourself.
Some people wonder, "I'm not sure exactly what I'd talk about in the Conversation. Maybe I'd better wait until I have my thoughts together before I have one of these Talent Catalyst Conversations."
Don't wait. The Talent Catalyst Conversation helps you to figure out what's important to you and where you want to go. If you already had everything figured out in your head and your talent optimized, you wouldn't need a Talent Catalyst Conversation. And there are no right or wrong answers to the questions about your hopes, opportunities, and actions. They are simply your answers. Thus, you can't fail.
Excerpted from TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR TALENT by Don Maruska Jay Perry Copyright © 2013 by Don Maruska. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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