Introduction to hidden talents

This is the first in a new series of posts on our hidden talents. Psychologists have many ways to explain how our talents get hidden and why it's so difficult to bring them into fruition. I use these explanations every day in the mentoring I'm doing. I routinely see people are more resourceful than they realize they are. It's become a frequent challenge of mine to bring out the best in others whenever I get a sense of where they are coming from.

For the past week, Steve Roesler has been exploring the issues of systemic talent development on his blog: All Things Workplace. There are many organizational and leadership issues involved that Steve's talent for framing issues has explored superbly. Few employers realize the benefits from cultivating their employees' under-developed traits. By following the organizational issues in Steve's series of posts and the psychological issues here, you'll gain a full appreciation of the difficulties and rewards of developing others' hidden talents.

For starters, I'll explore many of the metaphors for relating to hidden talents. Each of these redefines the problem and opportunities to explore. Each says any approach to hidden talents is more art than science.
  • Finding hidden talents: It takes a keen eye to spot a hidden talent. Like a detective sniffing about for clues, the awareness of latent potentials involves a focused attention on subtle signs that most overlook. I expect to find gifts that people don't know they have or have dismissed as insignificant. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy where I find what I'm looking for. By regarding someone as "more than meets my eye", some of what's hidden in them becomes revealed to me. I see the trait when I believe it can be seen by me.
  • Unleashing hidden talents: Lots of potential in people appears to be repressed by a layer of defensive rationalizations. People are full of excuses why they cannot consider the possibility of their latent abilities. They are convinced there's no way to explore new potentials or change their ideas about who they are. Their comfort zone is encased like a fortress with thick walls. Their hidden talents are held captive in a dungeon awaiting liberation. They cannot free their themselves from their internalized oppression or find the keys to the prison cell of preconceptions.
  • Refining hidden talents: Under-develop traits usually come out at first as raw urges. They are expressed awkwardly and understood primitively. There is a need to break them down into component issues, to rethink their formulations and to refine their expression. Obnoxious over-simplifications go through arduous complications to emerge as refined talents. The process is like taming wild animals, cooking a savory stew or concocting a potion. There's a unpredictable search to find the right balance, combination and emphasis in the process of refinement.
  • Rooting hidden talents: Lots of latent abilities remain like seeds stored in the dark. They will not sprout into anything useful or fulfilling without a gardener's careful attention. There's an initial process of delving deeper into that darkness. The seeds need to send down roots into negative emotions, painful past episodes and chronic fears. By growing away from one's sunny disposition and favorable "impression management", the hidden talent acquires a new basis to grow tall. Self confidence gets established on solid ground rather than on the shifting sands of people-pleasing rackets and avoidance of pain.
  • Nurturing hidden talents: Latent potentials thrive amidst respect and validation. They grow in a context where mistakes are useful and essential to uncover false assumptions. The development of hidden talents become exploratory, adventurous, and courageous in supportive conditions. Having someone in their corner who's got their back -- brings out the risk-taking that's essential for them to rely more and more on their new abilities.
  • Realizing hidden talents: Under-developed traits are partially realized when someone admits they at least have the potential. The ability becomes further advanced by experimenting with the possibility. There are questions to resolve to one's personal satisfaction: "Do I really have what it takes?", "Is there a desire to be like this as well as the capability to do it?", and "Am I finding the determination in me to pursue this completely?". When talents have become fully realized, they seem to be inherent in one's nature or unconscious competence that can be done without thinking.
Note that each of these approaches are conveyed with metaphors. They make connections that are not literal or objective. They do not define techniques or methods. They invite a kind of playfulness that proves to be very effective in being hidden talents into full fruition (another metaphor!). The psychological explanations we will explore in this series of posts are ways to redefine the problems and realize creative solutions.


  1. Go for it, Tom.

    I'm in the midst of working with two mid-career individuals who are at the "Wow--I never thought of myself that way!" stage.

    They each of talents that, while not hidden, haven't been viewed in an accurate way and connected to other career possibilities.

    This kind of a conversation can offer valuable insights to those searching for what they are pretty sure is there.

  2. Thanks Steve
    Besides "hidden", this series will speak to under-valued, overlooked and misread talents. It's one of those things where us mentors/coaches can use our perspective for wonderful effects!

    Do your thing!