The Future of the Talent Lifecycle: Choosing Your Own Adventure

Empowering people to direct their development drives higher organizational performance, engagement, and retention

As a leader, you are used to setting strategy, creating vision, and inspiring others to go on a journey with you. But have you ever done this for yourself?

In Chapter 3 of my book, Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance, I discuss why it’s imperative to honor the human you and lead yourself first before you can effectively lead others. Then I show you exactly how to do it by asking five critical questions and guiding you step by step through the process to answer each one.

Each step for answering these questions dives deep into your humanity to help you discover your values, beliefs, and purpose and use them to create a strategic roadmap for your development (in and outside the workplace). This chapter equips you with everything you need to clarify your goals and values, hold yourself accountable to them, cultivate self-awareness, and foster a positive growth mindset—all core pillars of leading yourself first.

Whether you’re just starting out in your leadership career or you’re a seasoned executive, I’m certain everyone can benefit from this process in Be Human, Lead Human.

But today, I want to take it even further. I want to share why the best leaders not only lead themselves first, but help their team members do the same. 

Shifting From External to Internal Motivation

The term “leader” applies to more than just people in a position with direct reports. After all, individual employees or independent contractors are still leading themselves to contribute the work you hired them for. They may be working under your guidance, but similarly to the old horse/water idiom: you can open the door, but you cannot make people walk through it. 

Your employees doing the work is them choosing to walk through your door. Your job is to put together a team of people who are motivated to explore and keep them interested in doing so at your organization (rather than looking elsewhere). So how do you motivate people?

It’s easy to start with the usual carrots employers dangle to attract talent. Salary, title, benefits, bonuses, cars, unlimited expense accounts, and others. These are effective initial attractors, but they don’t go far as drivers. Their ability to motivate doesn’t last because these aspects of work are extrinsic. Research from psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, the creators of Self-Determination Theory, shows that extrinsic motivation isn’t as powerful or long-lasting as motivation that comes from within. And they’re not the only ones proving it.

So, how do you motivate people over the long term? Pro tip: you can’t. You’re not in control of anyone’s internal feelings but your own. But what you can do is elicit intrinsic motivational drivers in others. This dramatically improves your ability to retain talent and keep people engaged in their work and within the organization.

An Innovative Talent Lifecycle

I’m sure you’re already thinking the natural follow-up question. How do you create intrinsic motivation for employees? To answer that, let’s look at the general stages of an organization’s talent lifecycle.

While a commonly-used term, there is no consistent standard for the traditional talent lifecycle. A quick Google search will yield results that vary and fluctuate between a few different terms, but they all capture the same core idea: the cycle of an employee’s journey through their time at an organization. 

I’ve already touched on the Attract stage. Recruit & Onboard is self-explanatory. It’s all about getting your new hires everything they need to do the job and welcoming them to the team. Typically, this is another external process; that is, it’s created and developed by people outside of the ones undergoing it without much (if any) input from them.

In fact, all of these stages but the last are inherently external—at least in the conventional way of doing things. Not every company even bothers to develop their employees, and when they do, said employees more often than not get no say in how that happens.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it shouldn’t.

Internal motivation is driven by caring about what we do. For that to happen, people need to have a say in what they’re doing. Better yet – the people bringing that talent should be the drivers of how you develop and engage them.

What I’m suggesting is a radical paradigm shift in your approach to the talent lifecycle. Employers operating on the outdated command-and-control model never do this. It’s not necessarily common practice to ask new hires (or any employee) questions like, “Who are you? What are your strengths, and how does your work align with them? Where are you going, and how can we help you get there?”

These questions are meant to help clarify goals and values, hold you accountable to them, cultivate self-awareness, and foster a positive growth mindset.

They’re part of the self-discovery process in Be Human, Lead Human that I mentioned earlier. But don’t let the “self” part fool you—it doesn’t mean you’re done once you’ve found your own answers! To drive higher performance for your organization, the next step is to invite your people to experience the discovery for themselves! (And the resources provided in the book to help you answer them can apply in this context too.)

Empowering your team members to “choose their own adventure” about how they develop, perform, and engage with the company benefits them, you, and the organization. With this approach, people are intrinsically motivated to bring their best to work every day. You support them in uncovering meaning and purpose in their work, which creates connection and inspires loyalty. And increasingly skilled and driven employees bring fresh ideas and insights to the table. All of this raises the organization’s bottom line. Using the discovery process to let your team members curate a strategic, personalized journey from onboarding through retirement drives higher organizational performance, engagement, and retention. It’s a win for everyone involved!

Have you ever invested in developing your team members as leaders? If so, how did it reflect in their performance? If not, what’s one thing you can do to start? Leave a comment with your ideas for empowering your direct reports to start leading themselves first!

I’m so delighted to share Be Human, Lead Human with you. It’s full of strategic, actionable steps you can take to strengthen your leadership—and this bi-weekly blog has even more ideas for applying them! Don’t miss out. Come back every two weeks and be sure to also subscribe to the Jennifer Nash Newsletter on LinkedIn for additional great leadership content!

Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance is available for pre-order on Amazon. While you wait, you can get the first few chapters for free right now at

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