The People Factor
by Ken Goldstein
Second in a Series of Ten
Talent is a tremendously overused term, often in an almost commoditized sense. Be advised, talent is not a commodity, not in the least. Talent is a gift, and like anyone who has or receives a gift, it must be nourished, nurtured, protected, developed, and polished. Talent is best developed by experience; without hard won field play, the full potential of talent is too often unrealized. Talent is elusive and unpredictable, but realized in sweat and support. You know it when you see it, and you know when you see it being wasted. This is The People Factor, very real and very human, which drives the workplace… or not.
One of my favorite exchanges of all time on this topic is from the 1988 movie Bull Durham, where Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis, the catcher who could have been, let’s loose on Tim Robbins’s Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, the pitcher who could be —
LaLoosh: How come you don’t like me?
Davis: Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift.
LaLoosh: I got a what?
Davis: You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You got a Hall-of-Fame arm, but you’re pissing it away.
LaLoosh: I ain’t pissing nothing away. I got a Porsche already; a 911 with a quadrophonic Blaupunkt.
Davis: Christ, you don’t need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball! In the show, everyone can hit heat.
LaLoosh: Well, how would you know? YOU been in the majors?
Davis: Yeah, I’ve been in the majors.
Crash wanted to stay in The Show more than anything in life, and he was good, but not good enough. Nuke took The Show for granted, and did everything he could to let it slip away. Crash found his real talent was mentoring, and showed Nuke that if he didn’t start taking his talent seriously, it hardly mattered that he ever had it.
Talent in the workplace is like that. We are all born with some talent, sometimes we just don’t know what it is and we wish it were otherwise. Yet once we come to a true sense of honesty about what that talent is, I believe we have an almost moral responsibility to put it to its test. To squander talent is no more noble than to push cash in a barrel and burn it, because if you don’t give your talent its full work out, that’s what you are doing.
Likewise, as a manager, recognizing and mentoring talent is not just your job, it is your calling. While some individuals will understate or overstate their own talent, it is a leader’s responsibility to cut through the muck and help talent rise to it’s potential. The cream does not rise in the workplace all by itself, would that it were true, but bureaucracy and politics have a tendency to maintain the status quo and hold people back to keep the norm at the mean — hey, it’s easier to be graded when the curve is soft, we all know that! So a manager has to see clearly, be bold, and be a champion for talent. If you’ve been a boss, you know the difference between having empowered talent at your side and having mediocrity swamp you with excuses; you can’t win with mediocrity, not a chance.
Career fulfillment is part unlocking your own talent, but much more unlocking that of those around you. As you experience the results of winning and just how much helping others achieve their potential matters, you come to understand that talent is not ordinary, it is rare. When you are in the company of talent, everyone does better. Helping others unlock talent is also one of the most satisfying experiences you can ever enjoy at work, and one you take with you when you leave any particular job and travel onward.
Never take talent for granted, it is precious. Revere the gift!