Developing talent: It’s all about a growth mindset

Majestic giant redwood tree scenery showing growth

In our ongoing search for ‘talent’ and ‘developing talent’, are we at risk of overlooking the less glamorous but proven attributes of sheer hard work and effort?

Where are you focusing your talent development activities?

There is frequent discussion around whether leaders are born or made. Whether individuals are naturally gifted or can be taught, through ongoing development and effort, to achieve similar goals. Too many organisations however, still spend a disproportionate amount of resources on trying to uncover talent in order to nurture and grow it over time, expectant in the knowledge that one day these individuals will drive the organisation on to imagined success and triumph. Whilst most would expect that talented individuals would be successful, is this the only way to drive the agenda forward? Possibly not.

In pursuing the goal around early identification of ‘talent’ and then aligning these individuals onto some form of accelerated promotional path, there’s a double risk that we create a level of expectancy amongst those labelled ‘talent’. And at the at the same time a risk that some genuinely skilled individuals are over-looked and are never given the opportunity to live up to their true potential. A worrying development for all concerned given that no organisation can leave any sort of talent on the shelf.

The risks of too much self-belief

It is useful to recall here the experiments of Carol Dweck, the renowned Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Further to a number of academically rigorous experiments, Dweck has shown that individuals who are told that they are naturally talented will often under-perform. Whilst those who are congratulated and encouraged for their hard work and application will over-achieve.

The former have a tendency to rest on their laurels and expect success to occur for them. They have, after all, been told that they possess a natural advantage so why work harder than necessary to turn this expectation into a reality? Surely it will simply materialise in front of them?

The latter group however, those who receive encouragement and support based upon their hard work and effort, have a natural tendency to strive to work harder and put in further effort in order to secure their aspirations.

So one groups sits back, safe in the knowledge that they have been told they are talented and, that accordingly, their success is guaranteed; whilst others work harder and put in ever more effort to reach similar heights. Inevitably, the individuals who strive for personal improvement end up over-achieving when compared to their ‘talented’ peer group. Whom would you rather have in your organisation?

Fixed mind-set vs a growth mind-set

The oft quoted example here comes from the world of professional sport. Those who see the indicators of success accruing to them at an early age; high earnings, endorsement contracts and branding rights often fail to reach their expected potential. However, the hard-grafters who put in extra effort and additional practice often go on to great things.

Dweck characterises this as ‘mind-set’ – with those identified as ‘talented’ often-displaying ‘fixed mind-set’ whilst those who respond to encouragement possess a ‘growth mind-set’.

Individuals who see the world through a fixed mind-set believe that certain traits (intelligence for example) are fixed and that as they are talented success will follow, with little or no effort. Individuals possessing a growth mind-set work hard to develop themselves and stretch their competencies in the pursuit of betterment.

So whilst the talent pool may be brimming with future leaders, are all of them aware that it takes talent plus application to succeed? And that a reliance on previous success is no indicator of future performance? Get them in early but ensure that they bring with them a mind-set primed to grow.