Out of the box talents!

The “use it or lose it” view of competencies may be right about savoir-faire and technical skills because they are often linked to technologies which evolve rapidly. But how about soft skills and savoir-être, the ones that are so in need right now like leadership, people management, coaching, creativity, public speaking etc? Do we lose these if we haven’t practiced them in a while?

As a trainer I should say yes, you lose them and you need to train again, so I could sell you more training sessions, right? Well no, what I’ve found is that we do not lose these skills but we have put them in boxes in our cellar, and since we can’t see them we often forget they are even here… accessible if only we would take the time to review what’s in the cellar.

This idea of “out of the box talents” came from a speech I gave to women entrepreneurs a few months ago about self-confidence and charisma. It is not unusual to lose confidence in ourselves when we are going through a transition towards a new job, a new career, a new environment… Indeed we may feel that we do not have the right competencies to do the job, enough resources to be successful, or we may even feel completely inadequate and a fraud. In these moments, we may look to get new resources (another training) to reassure ourselves, and I’ve even seen people refuse the next step in their career because they didn’t feel confident they could do it, even though their manager could see their potential.

So instead of looking on the outside for new resources, I suggest that we look on the inside for existing resources…  and get these talents “out of the boxes” we buried them into!

out of the box talents Merkapt

To give you an example, a client of mine was starting a business for the first time. So you can imagine how daunting it was for her, and how resourceless she felt when it came to do marketing. She had never done any studies in that field and did not have a big budget to spend on specialists, consultants, marketing surveys, or business school fees. So as her coach I helped her go through her existing resources… we went to the cellar and opened up all the old boxes (previous jobs, hobbies, sports etc.) until we found that in a “previous life” she had been a theatre stage director so she was used to work with scenarios, plan actions, anticipate the audience’s reactions, communication for plays etc. The moment she rediscovered these skills she immediately made the connections between these “old” skills and the new ones she needed for her business, felt more resourceful and a lot more confident. Needless to say that her business was and continues to be a success!

Another example is about my days as a dancer. Well it was a hobby, I never danced professionally, but I had 15 years of practice… Now you may say how is dancing (modern’ jazz) related to transition design, coaching, training or consulting? Well it is not, and that is why most people put “non related talents” into boxes and hide them in the cellar! So no it is not related, BUT if I decompose the experience “dancing” into components then I can see how I can use that experience into my current work. Every year I had to do a stage performance, so in 15 years I had done 15 stage performances in a theatre in front of about a hundred people. Well that ease on stage or scenic presence is a very valuable “skill” or “quality” for when I’m doing keynote speeches in front of hundreds of corporate people.

That latest example leads me to another notion hidden behind the expression “out of the box talents”: we may find while rummaging through our old boxes that some of these talents (or things we are good at) do not fit in the usual competency grid we have been given by HR, or are used to in skills assessment centres. We are so used to have processes, standardised ways of seeing people and their value for the company, that even though we want creativity, we are scared of things that “do not fit in the box”… Imagine someone receiving my CV on which I would write “scenic presence”… The reaction? I don’t know, but wouldn’t you be scared that they say something like: “Who does she think she is?”. And yes this is why most people do stick to fitting in the box, and we received standardised CVs of people who are scared to showing who they really are and their true and original value! When you read as a competency “public speaking”, what does it mean?

I have seen so many different public speakers, with various styles, level of performance, energy, etc. So be more specific: is it that you are good at sales pitches and you can present a convincing business case, or is it that you have a very pragmatic, straight to the point and insightful training style with a hint of dark humour, or is it a very entertaining, energetic and motivating stage performance style and feel very comfortable speaking in front of more than a hundred people? Being specific makes your talent more original and authentic than just the usual “public speaking skills”…

Ok, enough of my ranting! What is the point of this article? One, if you do some spring cleaning regularly, you will be amazed at what you find, at how resourceful you can be, at the number of things you can do or be. So at each major transition, go back to the cellar and examine these “old” talents of yours (from all past experiences, from other contexts, other careers etc.) and see if some of them could be useful now. Two, instead of trying to fit in, be yourself, meaning show what is specific about you and avoid using all the standard expressions that we find on all CVs: they may feel reassuring but they are not enticing!

So, out of the box talents! (Read it as you may).

Author: Stéphanie

Stéphanie has developed an extensive practice of executive coaching in London for more than 10 years. She now coaches CEOs and top executives to help them with team creation and development as well as business agility. She is one the few European expert both implementing and doing research on mentoring programmes.