For leaders it’s vital to start with your talents before trying to help employees. On a plane flight the attendant asks you to place the oxygen mask over your face before assisting others.

So let’s get started...

One of the easiest ways to pinpoint your talents is to notice when you feel good at work. When do you feel you energized? What projects spark you enthusiasm?

Do you feel better working in a group or working alone? Are you energized when you start a project, when you’re in the middle, or when you’re finishing a project? Are you invigorated when you receive new assignments? When you’re asked to train others? What do you naturally gravitate towards?

What turns you off?

Conversely, what do you avoid? What sends a shiver up your spine when you are assigned to it? What tasks make you cringe? Do you loath having somebody tell you, “Just figure it out as you go along”? Or do you like specific directions?

Where and when do you feel frustrated? When do you find yourself procrastinating? To what degree does the environment around you contribute to your lack of energy or enthusiasm?

5 Talent Questions
To further pinpoint your talents, here are five useful questions to help you recognize these sometimes hidden strengths.

#1. What did you enjoy doing before age eighteen?
What did you enjoy doing before you came to your present position? In fact, going further, what were your hobbies and interests before you entered the working world?

Before age eighteen, we had far fewer responsibilities than we have as an adult. The activities you enjoyed back then offer solid clues as to what the inner you prefer to be doing. Today you have bills to pay and mouths to feed.  Prior to age eighteen, you likely had more latitude as to how you spent your time after school and weekends.

At 18 you knew your talents! At age eighteen, did you prefer to be inside or outside? Did you save money or did you spend it? To what clubs did you belong? What groups did you join? What types of friends did you see? Did you enjoy books, plays, or movies?

Prior to age eighteen, I was involved in sports and exercise. The sports and exercise of my youth have morphed into dance today. I also recall being crafty, as in handy crafts. I used to check out library craft books. To this day, I still enjoy crafts. Not coincidentally, the programs I develop for clients have an artistic look to them.

A friend of mine from New England, Matt, liked to play basketball and baseball throughout the year. He enjoyed playing sports and charting his performance. On occasion, Matt would keep track of the number of shots taken, foul shots, rebounds, and assists.

In baseball, he would keep track of the times at bat, hits, runs, runs batted in, and so on. He even created basketball and baseball cards for himself that emulated commercial cards available at the drugstore.

Today Matt prepares and delivers reports where every word, every page and every data item needs to be correct. His reports can range from two hundred to five hundred pages. This kind of work would drive other people nuts.  But he does it well.

Your talents emerge early. If you have children, notice their differences and what they gravitate towards. They can have the same parents, live in the same household, and have relatively t he same upbringing. Yet, it’s common for siblings to be as different as night and day.

One of my sons gravitated towards sports. At nine months he wanted to play ball whenever a ball was around. He tried to throw it or kick it whenever he got the chance. At a young age he revealed his interests and gave clues to his talents.

#2. What tasks are easy for you?
Look beyond your work setting and notice your current activities. What groups do you belong to? Where is your participation strong and active? What hobbies do you maintain? Do you have strong civic, religious, social or community participation?

What do you do when no one is making requests of you? What kinds of activities simply come natural for you? What do you do around the house and around the neighborhood? Are you the person who doesn’t need to read the instructions? No thoughts, no cares, you just do it!

I have a friend, Carla, who is an excellent researcher. If I need to find a resource on a specific topic, I’ll give her a call. Her lifelong talent is assembling the valuable resources. She is always able to point me in the right direction.

Carla has hundreds of contacts in every aspect of life, from lawn care to baby sitting to special libraries and computer gurus. This is her talent — quickly accessing resources. To gain further insights as to your natural talents, ask others, “What do I do well? What are my strengths? Where do I shine? What do I seem to be able to do more easily and readily than others?

#3. What do others say you do well?

What do you repeatedly hear from others about your talents? When someone says to you, “How did you do that?” or “That’s amazing! I could never do that,” it’s a fairly reliable indicator of one of your talents.

Encourage others to tell you when and where your enthusiasm seems to be high, where your eyes light up, where you’ve got that look of both determination and satisfaction.

One afternoon a furnace repairman, Rene, came to adjust my gas furnace. As he entered the house he said, “I hope you don’t mind but I just fixed your mailbox outside. I could see it had a loose screw so I tightened it.”

I said, “Really? That’s awesome.

He said, “It’s hard for me to pass by something that needs fixing.” Upon further discussion, Rene said he just loves to fix things.  He’s forever on the lookout, consciously and unconsciously for what needs adjustment. I said to him jokingly, “Stay here a while, we have a lot to keep you busy.”

Take notice when people praise you for your talents. Do you discount what you hear?  After all, what you’re able to do easily doesn’t seem like a challenge at all.  But could it be marketable talent? Recognize the skills you slough off and dismiss may be a gold mine of capability. Hereafter, recognize when you say, “It’s nothing, or it’s no big deal” — this may be a valuable, marketable skill.

#4. When do others ask for your help?
Your job is to continually notice when people ask for your help. When do they want to talk to you? When do they count on you for help? When do they greatly appreciate you? When are you of service to them?

If people don’t know you well, but they seek you out, rest assured you have a talent in that area. Sometimes people come up to you, even though they have never seen or heard about your talents, because may sense you can help them.

Are you adept at balancing your checkbook? Are you fantastic at keeping your garage orderly? Do you offer effective career guidance? When do others ask for your advice? Take notice. This is your talent.

Throughout my life, individuals have come up to me at the hairdresser, lunch counter, dry cleaners, or even at church. Consistently, they ask for advice on people-related issues and career concerns. Like everyone else, I’m sending minute, unconscious signals about my talents. Even when you wear a uniform, it is no match for the invisible signals you broadcast.

#5. When do you annoy other people?
If you could only ask one of these five questions, this is the one to ask. You might prefer not to ask it at all, but it’s a valuable question. Whatever you do well, you’re likely to do to a fault. The ways you annoy others are reliable indicators of your talents. This is especially true when you’re unaware of your talents.

Avoid Over Using Talents
The strength of a research and development department often stems from individual scientists and researchers who are adept at analyzing data. But sometimes these researchers don’t know when to stop. The company needs to bring a product to market and meanwhile the researchers are still analyzing the data.

When the company can’t launch the product on time, they blame the researchers for being too slow. Analyzing data is a strength, but when taken too far it can become a liability. Consider the long-term planner, Steven, who is excellent at devising a five-year plan. He provides a valuable service because no one is looking into the future with his level of skill and foresight.

But Steven’s foresight becomes a liability when he fails to connect with the people in his organization who are responsible for the here and now. So when he walks in the room others think, “This guy is in another world.

What ever you do well, you may also do to a fault. It’s important to be open to feedback and manage our talents so they don’t become a liability.

Invite feedback
Our children and family members are prime candidates for telling us when we are over using our talents. Their observations and comments are insightful. You may want to dismiss what they say.  But fight that reflex tooth and nail. Listen to them with new ears.

What they say is often the flip side of your best talent. Hear the criticism and flip it upside down to see your talent. If you’re too controlling, you may have a talent for organizing. Coworkers, of course, are prime sources for letting you know when you are overusing your talents.

Soliciting feedback is key to your success. Colleagues can offer vital insights no one bothered to tell you.

If you receive negative feedback, flip it to the positive. Ask yourself, “What’s the positive side of this trait?” Do so and you’ll discover a strong talent. Then discern how to turn this behavior into an asset rather than a liability,

It's fun and easy.
When interests and talents are aligned, you have the ideal work situation. You’ll enjoy what you’re doing so much that you may not even consider it work. You might even feel guilty for being paid for what you do.

Focusing on your talents helps you stay centered in times of change. Your talents are like a rudder. No matter what’s happening, if you’re using your talents, you’ll feel more grounded and certain   about what you’re doing.

Take Action!
With your talents top of mind, reflect on your current work situation. Identify areas where you’re engaged and focus more on these. Find ways to delegate and eliminate tasks that don’t reflect your talents. Over time it’s possible to realign your work and use your talents fully. You’ll know you’re making progress when you feel engaged, motivated and energized.

You may republish this article with the following attribution:
@2017, Faith Ralston, Ph.D. Faith is CEO of

Play to Your Strengths Consulting in

Minneapolis, MN. 

The key to greater job satisfaction and career success isn’t working harder. As a matter of fact, it’s the opposite. When you’re doing what you love and using your talents, work is rewarding and fulfilling. And you feel great about what you’re doing.

So how do you discover your strengths?
Discovering this is like being a sculptor. You chip away only to find out what has been there all along.

Discover Your Talents

Faith Ralston