Make the Most of Your Talent

Excerpt from モTake Charge of Your Talent: Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Lifeヤ by Don Maruska and Jay Perry (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2013).

By Don Maruska and Jay Perry

The world belongs to the talented, and that means you.

Whether you’re the new kid in a cubicle, the boss in the executive suite, or you run your own business, you have huge potential for greater productivity and fulfillment. Even very high performers in excellent organizations—large and small, for profit and nonprofit—report that 30 to 40 percent of their talent is untapped. And that’s only the talent they know about. It doesn’t capture what they haven’t discovered yet.

Your talent is not simply your strength or your skill set. It is your self-expression—the joyful demonstration of your unique abilities that benefit both you and the world.

Why Your Talent Matters

Why should you take charge of your talent? Because your talent matters. It matters to you, it matters to your organization, and it matters to the world. When your talent lies dormant, there is a hole in your daily life. You may feel a lack of contentment and try to fill the hole with all kinds of activities and possessions that never quite do the trick. Opposing forces blunt your efforts and squash your hopes.

On the other hand, when you express your talent, the world vibrates with possibility. You feel the sweet experience of satisfaction. One idea leads to the next, and the next. Time flies. Life is filled with resources that carry you forward, sometimes in surprising ways.

Is it really that big of a deal for you to find a way to use more of your talent at work? We say, “Yes!” It’s a terrible waste when talent gets brushed aside. We know that when you aren’t using your talent to the fullest, everyone pays the price. Your productivity dips, your innovation peters out, and your love of life may evaporate. You may still be doing your job, but the joy you may have had has dissipated. The frustration, boredom, or stress from work can cause toxic damage to your personal life, as well. You may get in a rut and become blind to new opportunities. If you can’t see the road signs, you don’t take the right turns. You lose something of yourself and what you could be. Thus, the obvious makes sense: When you engage more of your talent, you become happier. And how important is that?

Put Talent Development in the Hands of the Talented

If you’ve gone out on your own or recently lost your job, it may be clear to you that it’s your responsibility to take charge of your talent. You need to take care of yourself, because nobody else will. This book will support you in doing just that.

What if, however, you are in an organization that does give attention to talent development? Maybe it will take care of you. After all, enlightened organizations often have training classes and leadership development programs and give special attention to people identified as “high potentials.” That’s all fine and dandy, if you are one of the chosen…in which case, we encourage you to take advantage of the resources that serve your aspirations. But what if you aren’t one of the chosen or you want to do more on your own initiative? We will help you to explore your talent potential more fully at work.

Even if you are one of the chosen and feel fully engaged in your work, there are strong reasons for you to take charge of your talent and for your organization to encourage you to do so. As good as top-down talent development programs in organizations may be, they have limitations for both employees and their organizations. Many start with organizational needs and train people to fill those requirements. Such programs, however, don’t tap a person’s core enthusiasm and accompanying talent.

As Daniel Pink concludes in “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us,” transactional systems may successfully get people to complete routine tasks, but they aren’t likely to inspire the groundbreaking innovations and genuine engagement that both individuals and organizations need to thrive.

As a senior executive commented after his management team analyzed how best to boost results, “We concluded that we could pay people twice as much and get a short-term bump in performance, but it wouldn’t make a lasting difference. Long-term change has to come from the employees’ own motivation.”

Why What’s Good for You Is Good for Your Organization

“Take Charge of Your Talent” provides an alternative to the top-down transactional model of talent development with a new generative paradigm of “Everyone can play and everyone can win.” This approach makes access to talent development available to all and generates an environment where people want to contribute. If your organization chooses to encourage all employees to take charge of their talent, you’ll benefit from having coworkers who will be learning and growing with you.

Maybe you’re wondering, “What’s in it for the boss?” Or maybe you are the boss. A brief look at employee survey data highlights the urgent need to boost employee engagement and use of talent. A Gallup employee engagement survey from 2011 reported that 71 percent of American workers were either “not engaged” in their work (emotionally detached and unlikely to be self-motivated) or “actively disengaged” (viewed their workplaces negatively and were liable to spread that negativity to others). The estimated cost of actively disengaged employees in the United States alone is $400 billion to $500 billion per year. Interestingly, engagement statistics have varied only a few percentage points over the last decade during both boom and bust economies. And similar engagement patterns elsewhere in the world underscore the global challenge. In short, these data demonstrate a chronic and costly problem that has remained basically unsolved.

“Take Charge of Your Talent” goes right to the heart of the problem with a fresh solution: tapping employee self-motivation to create authentic engagement and enduring value.

Excerpt from “Take Charge of Your Talent: Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life” by Don Maruska and Jay Perry. Copyright 2013 by Don Maruska. Published by arrangement with Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. For more information, visit

Don Maruska is the founder and CEO of three Silicon Valley companies and recipient of the National Innovators Award. He also has coached senior managers and teams in firms such as Wells Fargo, Accenture, Blue Shield, Intel, and Microsoft, as well as government agencies, nonprofits, and regional and local government organizations. He is the author of “How Great Decisions Get Made.”

Jay Perry is one of the founders of Coach University and the International Coach Federation. He has worked with executives at blue-chip companies such as AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, Genentech, Avaya, Shell, and Schlumberger. For 12 years, he was president of AIP, Inc., a training and consulting company for performing artists.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.