The Talent Cliff
It seems like certain people were dropped there with a special gift. Ordained by God to simply be naturally gifted as something. There are far too many examples to dispute the fact that some people are born with enhanced skills others aren’t. This, of course, isn’t to say we all can’t improve - not trying to dispute Carol Dweck and her growth mindset research by any means.
However, clearly some people are naturally gifted in singing, for example, as compared to someone else. A few of these people recognize this talent and invest great amounts of work in it. Their early success fuels their passion for their skill which provides enough intrinsic motivation to inspire them to pass through challenges and obstacles with no regard, as if they are simply part of the process.
And, in this process these few are likely recognized as much for their work and commitment as they are for their talent. Thus, they draw an additional reward in the form of admiration for the process they have chosen, not simply the innate talent they began with.
Then you have the gifted group that recognize their gift, but allow their talent to diminish their perceived need for work. They begin believing their talent, not their work, is the driving force. And, rightly so based on the feedback they receive from others.
These people are often praised and elevated because of their talent. Rather than the admiration being for the process they embrace it’s simply for the talent they possess. This rings empty to them because deep down they know they did little to cultivate what they were blessed with.
Why Should We Care?
As leaders, this is significant because these people are often hard to tell apart but their impact on our team and culture won’t be.
As Inky Johnson puts it, “Character supersedes talent … don’t allow your talent to take you where your character can’t sustain you.”
Talent leads us to a cliff that requires a plan. Character is the foundation of that plan.
I realize you’re probably reading that, agreeing with it and saying that makes sense.
Then why don’t we honor it?
We see it over and over - from professional sports to youth sports, from corporate America to the working class … skill and talent is valued above character.
We make these compromises with one hope in mind: they’re cliff is too far away. We know they’re headed straight for a cliff and we know they have not been equipped with a plan, yet too often we allow them to proceed.
We’ll complain about how they’re entitled and how they ‘don’t get it’. We’ll make excuses for their attitude and allow them to skate by on threats. Our unwillingness to hold the talented accountable isn’t their problem, it's ours.
Ignoring it is worse than enabling it.
We might as well be pushing them off the cliff ourselves.
REAL TALK - Action Steps
As the talented ones we are entrusted with make their way towards the cliff, here are a few thoughts on helping them develop a plan for the crossroads of their talent and their character.
The call is not to the talented, or gifted, though they ultimately hold the decision. The call is to the leaders. Teach them, coach them, and hold them accountable. If not for your benefit, for theirs.
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I'm a teacher, coach, and parent seeking excellence while defining success on my own terms.