Growing up, we are often taught that talent is rare. We grade and rank our performance. We vote for “most likely to succeed”. We hear the value of being the best of the best. All of this serves to show most of us that we aren’t the best. Many people point out that their glory days are behind them from their old football days or that music competition they won in 7th grade. They settle into their work believing they are nothing special.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In our work with organizations, we are constantly reminded about the power of the “common” employee. You would think that our work with companies would mainly involve top executives and managers, and while that is partially true, many of our biggest wins come when front line employees and low level supervisors discover the impact they can make.
I often tell the story of the front line, minimum wage employee without a high school degree who found ways to save his employer hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. I also think about the nursing supervisor who took ownership of a key process that has likely saved the lives of 3 or 4 people so far this year. I also think about the young engineer who challenged his management team to think differently about who their customer really is creating a major shift in their organizational culture.
Some of the best changes are led from the front lines. Too often, when I talk with these front line employees who make a big difference, their first response is often to apologize. The employee who saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars told me, “I know I don’t deserve this job”. The engineer commented to me, “it wasn’t my place to speak up, but I just felt compelled to say something”.
If this sounds like you, I’m here to tell you something important.
It is your place. Your team does need you. You are worthy.
Talent in itself is really not all that rare. In fact just about anyone that you get to know really well has incredible talents that may or may not get used. Too many times at work, it’s the latter.
Whether it’s the technical supervisor who is an amazing public speaker or the bank teller who is a great project manager, wasted talents are a loss to the organization and even more to the employee. The technical supervisor was given a chance to speak at all employee meetings and proved to be gifted at rallying the troops in a very engaging way. The bank teller was given a chance to use her project management skills to upgrade their teller processes improving efficiency, accuracy, and customer service.
Both employees had the courage to raise their hands and offer to do more. Both employees had supervisors who gave them a chance to perform. Both employees came through in big ways making a very positive impact on their organization. Both employees were subsequently promoted and were allowed to do more of what they do well for better compensation.
If you are an employee who feels like you could do more, my advice is find ways to show what you can do. Talk with your supervisor. Find ways to help your team and your company. Make it about the company, not about you. When you are given a chance, run with it. If your employer won’t give you an opportunity to show what you can do, perform your best and with the best possible attitude as you look for your next opportunity. I promise that there is an employer out there who needs you and your talents.
If you are an employer or manager, I challenge you to look for the unique talents inherent in every one of your employees. Sometimes this takes a little effort and lots of conversations. Give your employees challenges to overcome and see how they handle it. Ask them about their favorite parts of their work and for input on how to do things better.
Most importantly, don’t think about high performers and low performers. Assume that everyone is a high performer and your job is to discover how to put them into that position. Don’t write off anyone that is on your team.
Talent is not rare, but you are. We need you. You deserve to make an impact and have a great job. That starts with you. Take your place.