Three pieces of advice to develop your talent with your Danish manager

If you feel your talents are going unrecognized at work and your development is not receiving attention, this will give you new perspectives to relate to. 

Author, speaker and executive coach, Josefine Campbell. Photo: Lars Schmidt

If you feel your talents are going unrecognized at work and your development is not receiving attention, this will give you new perspectives to relate to. 

As a child in the Danish public school back in the 1980s, I was told to “wait for the others” when I was finishing a book or an exercise quickly. Then I was left with some optional book to keep me from total boredom.

Little by little, I went from being super engaged to losing interest in what the teachers had to offer. If you ask me, this teaching approach is a misunderstood attempt at being inclusive. They are trying to treat people the same way. But when you treat everyone the same, you are not treating people equally.

Things have changed a bit, but not that much. 

Equal = Same?
Too often, in Scandinavian cultures, the concept of equality is still translated as a notion that we should all be the same, even though we are not.

There is a reluctance in Danish culture to see one person as more talented than others. The corporate talent development programs tend to start quite late, and many managers are preoccupied with dividing evenly, rather than putting people with talent forward – but not all managers. 

Whether a person gets access to development resources very much depends on one’s direct manager, and on how many resources your direct manager has access to. Sure, it depends on company policies – if there are any – and the budget of the department. In the same company, funding for development can vary from one function to another. 

Three pieces of advice start your development journey
As a coach for leaders and aspiring leaders, I sometimes come across people who feel unrecognized. These people have the budget to meet with an executive coach, which is in itself a form of recognition, so I suspect the issue is even bigger amongst the people who I do not talk to.

This is because the feeling of being in stealth mode is draining for people with drive, curiosity, and ambition. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to get your development journey started

  1. What can you do on your own to show that you want to develop? 

One manager that I coached ran 30-minute feedback interviews with selected stakeholders to ask how they saw him, how he could improve and if they had any advice for him.

That way, he received valuable input that he could act on, while at the same time drawing attention to the fact that he was serious about leadership development. Today, he is in the talent pipeline of his company, and he is advancing.

  1. Find out what your direct managers perspective on your talent it. Does she or he want to put in effort in your development?

If your direct manager also has knowledge or capabilities you can learn from, most will appreciate that your development journey starts on the job and that you seek their feedback on your performance on an ongoing basis.

At some point there may be a natural occasion to invest further in your development. 

If your manager cannot prioritize the time to train you, ask if you can get a mentor in the company and if your manager can do regular 15-minute one-on-one meetings with you where you can check in on your development. Make it clear that you will take on tasks that you manager needs to get done, not just your top-preferred tasks.

  1. How many resources are there really for development? 

This will vary form company to company, and from level to level. This is something that HR also should know as well – if you can get a chance to talk to them. Asking your manager directly might seem pushy, depending on the situation, so be smart about it. Often, you must show them that you are worth it, again and again.

Don’t say it, show it:

  • Ask for feedback
  • Ask for tasks that can develop your skills and that are helpful for your manager
  • Always deliver high quality
  • Be vocal about where you want to get to in the long run, while being loyal to your existing manager.
  • Invest your own time and money in learning. 

At the end of the day, you can take your own steps forward. Your direct manager can support you, just like a teacher sometimes will support a gifted child. In both cases it is seeing people for who they are and only a limited number of managers have that gift. They are just humans. 

You cannot count on being recognition from others. So, key in your effort is that you see yourself and that you start taking steps in the directions that will work for you. Don’t let your happiness depend on others seeing you before you see yourself.