Research in neuroscience tells us a person’s talent does not change significantly over time, and leaders will improve the most in their areas of greatest talent. This implies a very different approach to leadership development, performance management and career planning. Rather than a focus on how we can offer opportunities and challenges in business that play to individual strengths, organizations tend to focus on developing people in areas in which they are weak, and many times firms promote strong performers into new jobs that don’t support the use of their inherent strengths.
Inevitably, a development plan is created that focuses individuals on developing capabilities where they are deficient because the organization has put future measures, evaluations and incentives behind this.
What would be best way to develop people with the highest possible impact on individual growth and development and with the best outcomes for the organization? Neuroscience research has shown that from birth to 3 years, the brain grows exponentially in billions of synaptic connections. Then, between 3 and 15, the brain organizes itself by strengthening the synaptic connections that are used frequently, while those that are not wither away.
In other words, roads with most traffic get widened, and others are closed, according to Dr. Harry T. Chugani at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Evidence exists that beyond a person’s mid-teens, this unique network of synaptic connections does not alter greatly.
When this is applied to the business world, you will find those people whom you hire as strong communicators will stay strong communicators. People with strong creative skills will continue to be creative.
Nevertheless, people definitely can change and develop skills and knowledge. A key question arises, though: Which development opportunity provides the biggest impact, investments in areas of deficiency or in strengths?
Neuroscience research has found we should identify people’s talent and provide development experiences that build on strengths to create consistently excellent performances. But is this practical and possible in the world of organizational roles and responsibilities?
In a talent-driven organization, there is a deliberate focus on a leader’s strengths, yielding interesting possibilities and results. First, it is especially beneficial to identify specific capabilities and ensure the responsibilities of the position play to the leader’s strengths.
Also, it is possible to apply areas of strength that seem unrelated in creative ways. This can only occur, however, if the strengths are known and an explicit dialogue and focus help the leader see how the strength can be used successfully.
Several steps are required to move toward a more talent-driven career growth and development strategy:
Finally, if enterprises want to build a world-class organization and retain their best talent, they must promote high-performing leaders into roles in which they can continue to leverage their strengths. `
Nick van Dam, Ph.D., is global chief learning officer for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. He is founder of the e-Learning For Kids Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.