Purposeful Talent Development: Don’t Wait to Be Told Where to Go

Jennifer Stangl Photo
Director of Professional Development

3 minutes

Some people don’t learn if the pathway isn't fully clear; but you can—and should—take the initiative in addition to looking for support.

In November, I had the opportunity to facilitate a breakout session at our CEO/Executive Team Network. While discussing the impact senior leaders have on talent development, an attendee brought up a puzzling situation, “When development opportunities are offered, people don’t step up to take advantage. Why?”

In large part, it's because much of our previous education in life has been directed. Despite having "electives," anyone that has attended any formal education has for the most part been told where, when and what to learn. We must complete a standard set of classes to graduate from high school. For any post-secondary education, there is a plan for the type and timing of courses you need to complete to earn a degree.

The idea that we will be told what we should learn next is ingrained in us and is a reason many people don't jump at the chance to learn--and also why many ask for a roadmap. Moving away from this mindset that learning must be fully prescribed requires conscious thought and striking a balance between getting help from others and owning your own learning.

Help From Others 

If we are going to completely branch out from our everyday knowledge and experience, we may need someone to lead or even push us. At our core, we naturally want to excel; we want others to see us as knowledgeable experts in our work. Voluntarily placing ourselves in a room with others we feel are more experienced or generally smarter than us is challenging. 

Moving outside our comfort zones and visualizing our own potential may require assistance. We also may need someone who can share in the development experience with us, reinforcing our successes and helping us reflect on learning if we fall.


It is okay to lean on others for support and listen to their recommendations, but we are all responsible for our own development. We can’t just stand in the middle of the road waiting for someone else to tell us where to go. We need to check out the paths and test the roads by researching opportunities and engaging in (internal and external) dialogue to identify which learning options might be most beneficial. 

Just as you have something to learn, you also have something to share. Supporting your colleagues can help you grow your own skills, too. You can do this by providing feedback, sharing resources you’ve found valuable or engaging in development discussions about your goals. Just as you may like or need support from others, remember that you can share your insight, give a gentle nudge when needed or help build another’s confidence.

If we truly want to develop, we cannot make it a passive experience, waiting around for someone else to tell us where to go.  We must be involved in forging our own paths and be willing participants in our own development. 

As you begin this new year, take a look at what you want to accomplish in your career and what you want to achieve. Set realistic goals and engage others in supporting you in achieving those goals. 

Jennifer Stangl is director of professional development at CUES.

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