Essential 6: Know your true talents

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One of my friends was recruiting a recent graduate in IT. This interviewee started to tell him about his time at university organising the annual ski trip. He enthused about arranging it, negotiating deals with the bars, dealing with illness, accidents and unfortunate behaviours, and getting everyone home in one piece. The story was nothing, and yet it was totally relevant to his job. He loved project management. This was his true talent. He was in IT because he thought it would be good to be a coder, but his real talent was in coordinating people to deliver results.

A talent is the mix of aptitude, knowledge, skills and experience. Where you have a gap in talent, you will need to decide which of the four you can work on to improve that talent.

What are you really good at?

I often find people who dismiss what they are good at – because that is ‘easy’ and so ‘anyone can do it’. They think their talent must be in the stuff that makes them work hard. For example, Pete, is great at listening to different conversations and building a picture, and image, of how multiple ideas connect together, but he used not to see that as a talent, because it wasn’t his job title.

When I work with people, I often recommend that they review their greatest skills and the extent to which they are applying them.  A list of the top 10 is about right, which you can rate with a score out of 10 for how good you are, and a second score out of 10 for how much you enjoy applying the skill.  When you review at the end of each day how much of your time you have been using each top 10 skill for a week, you will quickly see the extent to which you are using your skills in your current role.

Many of us will have specific talents that relate to our chosen profession but it is often useful to look at some more generic talents that are highly transferable.  You can use a specific talent diagnostic like Gallup’s CliftonStrengths or pick a list based on the Belbin Team Roles such as this:

  1. Shaping projects / work
  2. Getting things done
  3. Completing to Finish work
  4. Coordinating People
  5. Ensuring a team works well
  6. People Networker
  7. Knowledge Manager (know stuff, or know where to find it)
  8. Trainer
  9. Presenter
  10. Creative design (pictures or words)
  11. Creative Ideas
  12. Evaluator (judging ideas or people)
  13. Specialist knowledge (e.g. Law, IT, etc)
  14. Facilitator (e.g. chair meeting, draw ideas out)
  15. Conflict Resolver (mediator)
  16. Influencer
  17. Encourager (or sales)

A personal example

In my own case, I realised early in my career that I loved business, but it took me a long time to work out which specific skills I could bring to bear, to enjoy doing business.  Initially, I built software development skills which were highly marketable and, when I was building business systems, enabled me to get a great insight into how business worked. However, it was quickly obvious that I was never going to be a brilliant software engineer – the computer scientists on my Cambridge University degree course were so much cleverer than I could ever be.  

I was good at understanding how business worked and designing software that helped it to work better. In my late 30s, I stopped writing code and focussed on helping others to build better systems. But it wasn’t until my early 40s when I recognised that I had a hidden talent and desire to teach and develop others.  There were clues like taking a leading role in the development of knowledge management, sponsoring a Masters course in Software Development at Imperial College and becoming a Visiting Professor at UCL. When I looked back on my working life, I saw from my earliest years I had developed courses and taught them.  

Now I intentionally look for opportunities to create powerful learning environments for experienced executives and leaders of smaller businesses.


Whatever your current role, taking stock of your skills and reviewing to what extent you are applying your top talents at work, will enable you to re-assess whether you are playing to your strengths and following your passions.

You may be able to close the gap by delegating more or renegotiating your role. You may realise that you have reached a dead end and more radical steps are needed. Again and again, I meet people who realise that the technical skills that were the foundation of their career, have either been overlooked as they progress or are no longer the source of energy for the work they want to do.  Reconnecting with their core skills and shaping a role that is going to suit them for the next season is often a challenge for which they need help.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.