Identifying and Developing Talent

Identifying and Developing Talent

In the 1950s, riding instructor Harry deLeyer identified what would eventually prove to be an amazing talent, impacting his life far beyond what he could have imagined at the time.  Arriving late to an auction, he spotted the few remaining unsold horses which were headed for the slaughterhouse. Something in the eyes of a former plow horse caught his attention, so deLeyer took a risk, purchased Snowman, and began to use the frosty-grey stallion of questionable breeding at his riding school.

Snowman turned out to be a great investment, but when deLeyer eventually sold him to a neighbor, something remarkable occurred.  The talent he had trained for his riding school kept jumping fences, some of them quite high, to return to his former work environment.  DeLeyer quickly realized this horse had hidden talent, so he repurchased Snowman and spent time training him to compete as a jumper. Once Snowman was ready for competition, he didn’t disappoint.  He won event after event, ultimately being named “Horse of the Year” by the organization now known as the United States Equestrian Federation (to find out more about deLeyer and Snowman, read Elizabeth Letts’ 2011 book, The Eighty-Dollar Champion:  Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation).

DeLeyer and Snowman’s story is more than a mid-20th century phenomenon.  In fact, the team at LEADon® believes their tale offers 21st century leaders four specific strategies that should be utilized when striving to field, develop, and maintain talent in any Corporate Family®.   In other words, exceptional leaders who want to have a championship team will:

  1. Clarify the requirements for each role that needs to be filled before beginning any talent search.
  2. Look for potential aptitudes in addition to existing competencies when filling Corporate Family® roles.
  3. Be intentional about developing all members of the Corporate Family® to keep everyone’s skill sets sharp.
  4. Watch out for the hidden talents of team members which sometimes become evident over time, then pivot if needed to maximize those abilities.

Let’s spend some time breaking down these four strategies for successful talent acquisition and development, applying lessons from deLeyer and Snowman’s story to you and your Corporate Family®.  First, before any talent search takes place, you and your leadership team must have a clear understanding of the kind of team member you are seeking.  In his February 2020 Forbes article “How to Identify Game-Changing Talent to Hire for Your Business,” Ryan Robinson shares that even the most talented individuals probably won’t succeed in an undefined, ambiguous role.  Instead, “employers should first evaluate which objectives the new role needs to accomplish” (you can discover more recommendations for your talent search by reading Robinson’s article at In his initial talent search, deLeyer knew he had a job that needed to be filled at his riding school, and Snowman ended up being an ideal candidate for that role. So, be sure everyone involved in the talent search process is clear on the role that needs to be filled as well as the corresponding responsibilities. Take time to be aligned and attuned on those details, especially the “objectives the new role needs to accomplish.”

The second strategy for the talent acquisition/development process may seem a bit elusive, but LEADon® has worked with many leaders who sought to not only meet current needs but also search for the potential capabilities of new hires that could positively affect their Corporate Family®. This isn’t an easy task, as Claudio Fernández-Aráoz points out in his June 2014 Harvard Business Review article: “potential is much harder to discern than competence” but he adds that “the first indicator of potential we look for is the right kind of motivation: a fierce commitment to excel” (Fernández-Aráoz’ article “21st-Century Talent Spotting” can be found at

Interestingly, motivation is one of twenty-five EQ characteristics that can be measured with LEADon®’s EQ metric, the Developing Emotional Competency Questionnaire (DECQ®). The DECQ® has been designed to help leaders discover some of those seemingly intangible traits that, in reality, powerfully impact Corporate Family® success.  Once EQ weaknesses are identified, leaders and their teams can address concerns using LEADon’s® online courses that specifically target leadership skills that need strengthening (more information on our SHRM-approved courses and the DECQ® can be found at or watch the DECQ® video by clicking here).

The third strategy gleaned from Snowman and deLeyer’s story aligns perfectly with LEADon®’s fundamental tenet: intentional leadership development is critical for any company that desires long-term success.  Over the years we’ve observed how organizations that have invested in their Corporate Family® members experience an increase in productivity and profitability. This shouldn’t be too surprising since, according to Robinson, “your employees are the lifeblood of your business.  The contributions of passionate and engaged team members can help achieve your vision and build your brand.”  At LEADon®, we summarize that principle this way: When you pour into the lives of your employees, they will respond in kind—valuing one another, your clients, and your company’s goals (discover more by reading our LEADon® blog entitled “Culture of Caring”).

Finally, could it be possible that you have team members with hidden talents not yet utilized?  Snowman’s first Corporate Family® totally underestimated the value of this future champion.  Even deLeyer almost missed out on his acquisition’s most valuable talent.  Thankfully, the riding instructor eventually identified Snowman’s incredible skills, and he pivoted accordingly. After some training, deLeyer and Snowman became a winning duo, riding a wave of unbridled success that changed the trajectory of deLeyer’s life and ultimate legacy. As a leader, one of your primary responsibilities is to ensure that your Corporate Family® members are fulfilling their roles while also maximizing their capabilities.  If your employees aren’t in a good fit, everyone suffers.  According to Rebecka Green, “1 in 5 workers are in the wrong job, leaving them feeling unmotivated, disengaged, and unproductive.” In her 2019 Business News Daily article, Green encourages leaders to move talent into new roles if necessary while making sure that “employees (have) some control over the situation too” (read more of Green’s article “Strategies for Successful Employee Transition” at

While you may never appear at Madison Square Garden, on a late-night television show, or in a popular magazine like deLeyer and Snowman did, you can certainly reach incredible heights of success by identifying and developing talent in your professional and personal life.  Take time to consider the four strategies above to see how they may be of benefit in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Share these strategies with your leadership team, seeking their perspective on how to best apply them to your talent search process.  Most of all, keep your eye out for hidden talents in those around you, and be willing to pivot if individuals might perform better in a different position.

LEADon® has spent over two decades helping leaders learn to field, develop, and maintain team members in order to dramatically improve Corporate Family®  success.  Our SHRM-approved online courses can assist in this process, including LEADing by Fielding, Developing, and Maintaining High Performance Teams® and LEADing by Coaching and Mentoring®. Please visit to peruse our leadership courses and access resources such as The LEADing Blog.  Also, feel free to contact us directly at 858.592.0700 if we can answer questions about your specific leadership needs.