The Proper Care and Feeding of Talent

Posted: September 23, 2011 in Leadership Development, Relationships
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Do you find yourself in desperate need of talent, creativity, and energetic individuals within your organization or business? We human beings tend to be reactive. We react to problems that arise rather than invest time in the issues that will eliminate the problems before they occur. For years I have been a student of the education of gifted and talented individuals. My studies have opened my eyes to the fact that gifted and talented individuals are some of the most under-served people in the educational system. I see the same disservices occurring in a variety of organizations. I don’t believe this is done maliciously, but from a lack of understanding.

We tend to think that because individuals are talented in certain areas, that such people need little attention– that these people will thrive whether or not we invest in them. We find it unnecessary to provide hospitable environments for their talents in order to nurture them until they flourish. We tend not to see the silent geniuses that fade away for lack of investment. To me this is a true tragedy. We often cry, “Where are all our leaders? Where did all our creativity go?” We must be willing to face the possibility that we did not recognize them, protect them, or invest in them when we had the chance.

Especially talented people also have special needs. If you look at a student with a learning disability in a classroom, it is obvious that this kid has a special need to be challenged at a different, but appropriate level according to his need. So we provide special teachers that assist him and provide him appropriate exercises so that he can learn. However, it is counterintuitive to see this same need in a gifted student who makes straight A’s. If that student went through the school day, not making any waves, getting good grades… but that student did not learn a single new thing that day, who is the truly dis-serviced child? We owe it to our most talented people in our organizations to invest in them while they are near, lest we lose them. They might never squeak, but they may silently pull up their anchors and drift away.

In an interview with filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan, he describes the experience of working with some of the world’s most talented actors. He explained that these people demanded much of him as a director. In fact, they demanded more of him than those of lesser skill. If you are a leader and you merely want someone to make your life easy, you should choose people with a limited amount of skill or talent. They will challenge you far less and will cause only minor headaches. However, you must be sure that your vision stays manageable, because if your vision grows too big, you will be forced to seek out greater talent to accomplish your vision.

It takes a certain skill set to train someone who knows less than you. To collaborate with someone who knows more than you is a an art form in its own right. Those with the biggest vision quickly learn the skill of working with highly gifted and skilled people. Here are three R’s of working with talent.

1. Recognize: Learn first to recognize talent when you see it. You may even be able to recognize it it it’s rawest forms. I was once told that you can recognize acting talent in someone’s ability, not necessarily to perform well on the first try, but in the ability to take direction well. This principle can be applied to many different forms of talent. Those who find it in it’s rawest forms will reap great benefit from being the first to discover and coach such people to greatness. You can build lasting relationships with them if you are the first to value them enough to invest in them.

2. Respect: A certain level of humility is necessary to show the skilled person that you recognize the areas in which she outshines you. The level of respect should match the level of skill in comparison with your own. If you are in doubt about how much respect to show someone, err on the side of more respect rather than less. The most highly performing individuals get where they are because they are lifelong learners. They are willing to be taught by anyone who might have a piece that they are missing, even if this person is less skilled than they are. Therefore, they can smell arrogance in a leader a mile away and will avoid it like the plague.

3. Reward: There comes a time when we must be willing to put our money where our mouth is. Artists and geniuses need to eat too! Rewards can come in the form of money, creative freedom, relationships, promotion, or a combination of factors. We need to be careful not to take talent for granted. If you removed such talent from your organization, how would that impact the success of the organization as a whole? This question must be pondered in order to determine the value of a given individual.

Though the gifts and talents of others may be a mystery to us, it is worth the effort to ask questions, to seek and respond to those who have a vision of what might be. Just because someone has talent, doesn’t mean they know what to do with it. They need leaders to listen, to push, and to believe that the best is yet to come.


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