Starting with a confession, I originally wanted to say “Leadership Trumps Talent.” But the word “trump” today, seems to have such a negative connotation in many circles, I didn’t want to trigger anybody. With that being said, I’m sure you get my intention.
Recently, I’ve been reminded that there is a serious talent war going on in the workplace. Not a day goes by where I am not reminded, by clients and friends, how important hiring the best people is. Not to mention the struggle it can be. So when I tweeted about leadership, talent and character, and listened to some responses, it got me thinking some more. A blog post was in order.
This post is for employers, employees and entrepreneurs. The sooner we can all agree on what success is, what we think it should be, and what it really isn’t, the quicker solutions can be attained. And this doesn’t apply to just work either, but all areas of life and society in general.
Leadership Eats (Trumps) Talent
Leadership and talent are not the same. One major difference is that you can be born with talent. But you are not born a leader. Sure, you may have talents that are conducive to leadership, but that doesn’t guarantee your leadership. In fact, I argue, from observation and experience, that talent can get in the way of becoming a leader. The good news is that leadership can be trained.
The reason leadership eats talent for breakfast, is that without leadership, talent means almost nothing. Now, it is said that breakfast happens to be the most important meal of the day (yes, I recognize that scientifically breakfast can be debated, but go with it). So you cannot ignore talent. But the main issue here comes down to identity and belonging. When your identity and belonging is talent based, it tends to be all about you and what you can do. When identity and belonging is truly leadership based, it’s all about others and what they can do. Or better yet, who they can be (become). Let me be clear here, leaders can totally make it about themselves. To this, I argue that their leadership is actually talent based versus being about character.
Character is Dessert
How come character is dessert? Well character is so sweet! It’s the perfect ending to celebrate every meal (Even breakfast!). I define character as what you do when nobody is looking. Character at work, therefore, is what employees do when the boss is not looking. With the right character, leadership becomes that much sweeter and talent becomes highly enjoyable.
While talent with character is a definite asset, here’s the difference when you combine leadership with character. Leaders know that every body is always looking. Even when people are not watching, leaders know they must conduct themselves as an example. True leaders with character are always setting an example because they know that character is caught and not taught. In other words character needs to be modeled every moment of the day, especially in adverse situations.
The One Question You Should Be Asking Yourself (and Others You Manage)
I’ve heard this question being discussed greatly when it comes to HR reviews and recruiting. The more I ponder it, the more I see its value. I’d like to share it with a small tweak of my own. The original question is:
“How do you lead by example?”
This is a great question. Entire reviews can be wrapped up into the framework that this questions represents. It cuts right to character-based leadership over talent. When I turn that question on myself, it has even greater implications. This is where I offer one tweak:
“How do you lead by example when nobody is looking?”
Wow. Even right now this makes me uncomfortable. It reveals my inner life and discipline. It questions whether I truly lead out of a desire for recognition, or from integrity to character. Where is my heart? Pretty powerful if you ask me.
Go ahead, try it. How do you lead by example when nobody is looking? I hope your answers are encouraging and convicting in a way that spurns you on to greater character.