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Center for Enlightened Leadership

Our Unique Gifts and Talents

  Dr. Stephen L. Sokolow
  Dr. Stephen L. Sokolow
Executive Director and Founding Partner

First it was fingerprints, then voiceprints and retinal scans, and now DNA—all of these advances affirm that each human being is truly unique, a one-of-a-kind original. Yet that uniqueness is not just physical. Minds are unique, and so are spirits. But uniqueness extends even further—each person has unique gifts and talents.

Part of our task in life is to figure out what those gifts and talents are, how to cultivate them, and how to share them. This is by no means easy. Nonetheless, first it’s necessary to identify your gifts and talents. Once you have a sense of what they are, you need to cultivate and develop them. Finally, you need to share them with the world. As leaders, you are challenged not only to live and model that process, but also to facilitate that process in others. When you do this, it is empowering for all whose lives are touched by their gifts and yours.

Schools offer a variety of exploratory programs—the theory being that you should expose kids to a variety of experiences so they can explore possibilities to discover where they might have talents or interests. But as we grow up, we lose sight of the idea that life should be an ongoing exploration. If you are not willing to try new things, then you may never discover your gifts.

The most interesting people I know are people who are continually on a quest to learn new things. What they’re saying is, “I may discover other things I enjoy and am good at. I won’t know until I give it a try.” On the other hand, I know other people who just don’t want to try anything new; they’re happy where they are, and seem to be stuck in a rut. They have found one or two things they like and are good at, and they just keep doing them ad nauseam.

One piece of advice Paul Houston and I give to young leaders is: “Don’t try to polish the same side of something twice. If you’re good at something, don’t just keep polishing that one thing. Go polish something else because that way, ultimately, you end up being shiny all over. If you only polish one side, you will have a lot of dull sides left over that you haven’t developed. It is a constant struggle to fight against your natural instincts to stay with what you know because you are comfortable doing the things you know you are good at. Most people are much more talented than they will ever know. You may have talents and gifts within you that you’ve yet to tap.

It is important to focus on gifts and talents, both of which are plural. Most people have many gifts and talents, so discovering all your gifts and talents is a lifelong journey. At different times in your life—teenage years, early adulthood, midlife, or old age—different gifts and talents emerge or come to the fore. Understanding that, you can be alert to clues that you have a talent or a gift waiting to emerge. Life offers an opportunity to discover and cultivate the talents that you have, but the choice of whether or not to do so is yours. One of the keys to discovering your talents is by being open to your environment, to what other people are mirroring for you, and to what they see and identify as your gifts and talents.

Each of us is blessed with unique gifts and talents. We are like a piece in a three-dimensional puzzle of life, striving to figure out where we fit. And just like an incomplete puzzle, life is incomplete without us. Each of us is important to the whole. Wise leaders help others see the contours of their lives so they can see how they can best contribute their gifts to the whole.

Wise leaders strive to help others identify their own gifts and talents and then cultivate them, helping them find their place in the puzzle. Leaders and parents may see the gifts that others have before they themselves are aware of them. My mother identified my natural gift for working with children when I was a teenager. She encouraged me to go into the field of education. When I became a teacher, supervisors and principals encouraged me to pursue leadership training. When I became a superintendent of schools, other leaders encouraged me to write and conduct training seminars for practicing and developing leaders. And so it goes…

We are continually given the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to manifest the gifts that we have been given. We also can gain insight into our unique gifts and talents by reflecting on our life experiences and connecting with our own inner wisdom, sometimes called our higher or true self. It is our higher self that knows who we really are at our core. It is our higher self that knows our gifts and talents. It is our higher self that gives us the intuition and insight that reveal our gifts and talents. And it is our higher self that tries to provide a spark of recognition in terms of self awareness and sense of well being when our actions are aligned with our gifts and talents. Throughout our lives we are in search of purpose and meaning. The more we align our actions with our true gifts and talents the happier and more fulfilled we are. Wise leaders are aware of t his process and are ever alert to the opportunity to shine light on the potential in others, and help them find their best and brightest future.

Center for Empowered Leadership ®
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