Cultivating Talent


My husband Ken and the best leaders have a lot in common. At first glance, one wouldn’t think so. He is a nurseryman, and close to the earth. A somewhat unusual leader, perhaps. He has owned and operated Oikos Tree Crops, a specialty plant nursery for almost thirty years. It took several years from the purchase of the property his nursery was to be built on, to the selling of his first trees. My husband is a patient man and one that organizational and business leaders can learn from.

In the time between purchasing (or cultivating stock for) seeds, Ken must nourish the soil, nurture the best plants and market what he has to sell. Many trees take several years, and some never make it to market for a variety of reasons (despite his best efforts); inability to grow, undesirable traits, and outside influences such as the weather, to name a few. Ken loves the “hands on” work of developing nursery stock to sell. It requires great patience to wait for stock that is suitable and ready to be sold – several years, in fact. And yet, he knows that he cannot control everything or always force the plants he cultivates to have the traits he wants them to have; so he nurtures the best qualities in his plants, even if they are unexpected.

Likewise, great leaders understand that nurturing talent takes time and patience:

Nourish raw talent: Start with an employee who has a willingness to learn. An attitude of eagerness to learning new skills, and a willingness to try new things are an indication that you have a winner. Look for unexpected strengths. Nourish strengths by rewarding and celebrating their successes. One of the least used methods to encourage others is to simply let them know you appreciate them, what they’ve done for your organization, and to thank them. It doesn’t cost a penny, yet others are longing for encouragement. Take a moment to recognize that talented employee for being on the right track.

Nurture the best: Spend your time nurturing the best. Once you’ve determined that a special employee has a willingness to learn, coach them. Coaching is, in a way, a nurturing activity. Help them to understand where their strengths will benefit the organization and where their weaknesses must be moderated. Provide them with opportunities to shine and develop by using their strengths.

Market talent: Part of your responsibility is to “market” this talented employee. Give them credit for their success, publicly. Let others know how lucky you are to have such talent in your organization. Allowing your talented employee to take short term or a long term “stretch” assignment elsewhere in the organization is good for them and good for you. Although it may ultimately mean that this employee has grown beyond the boundaries of their current position and needs to flourish elsewhere, it may be the right thing to encourage them to go.

All of these development activities take time and patience. The effort and care you take in developing your talented employees will pay off in the long run.


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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