Why Revere Talent?

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!

Dynamic Duos

The Toughest “Soft Call” You’re Likely to Make
by Ken Goldstein
First in a Series of Ten

You’re going into the roughest, toughest, most ruthless, unending, dirty, nasty, few-rules-everything-at-risk, energy-consuming and only momentarily gladdening bash up fight of your life.  It’s called your career.

Who do you want in your corner?

You train, you study, you fight your way up the ranks, but somewhere along the way you make a choice that you don’t even realize is going to have significant impact and maybe determine your outcomes in those fights — your life partner.  Boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, domestic partner, husband, wife, call him or her what you want.  You make this choice for romantic reasons, for family reasons, for selfless reasons, for religious reasons.  Do you make this choice for business reasons?

Well, I suppose there are people who are that calculating, in the olden days some folks talked about “marrying up” and such, but that’s not what I am talking about here.  I am not at all talking about making a political call to better your career by making business value part of your criteria of choice.  I am not even suggesting you must have someone in your corner, that may not be your style, and that might be a great choice.  My point here is if you have the wrong life partner on any number of levels, if you and your partner pick each other without enough thought and are not where you should be, it is going to be mighty difficult to fight the battles ahead.  I am sure fighters can go into a title match without anyone in their corner, but that certainly would be a lonely place to look each time the bell rang.

Successful business executives Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober (turned authors!) cover multiple aspects of this complex topic — practical and advisory — in their extraordinary book:

Getting to 50/50

Getting to 50-50 by Sharon Meers and Joanna StroberThey have conducted significant academic research with dual working couples and found unending common themes that lead to success and lack of such in personal and professional circumstances.  For me, the key takeaway was the concept of being mutually supportive on an ongoing basis.  This would seem like such a simple working premise, but think about it, how many couples do you know where both partners are equally supportive of the dreams, visions, hopes, challenges, and aspirations of the other, whatever they might be, and however they may evolve and change?  We may praise this activity when we see it and think how wonderful it is for making the happy home, but the equal observation is that it makes for the same success in the workplace.

You might believe in yourself at any given time, but when that sucker punch comes and you are on your back looking up at the little birdies going around your head and the referee getting close to 10 on the count, who is going to make sure you are back on your feet?  You?  Well, you are going to have to get the feet under you, surely that’s your problem.  But you’ve just taken a hard hit to the head, perhaps even a sneaky baseball bat.  Could be your confidence is shaken, your values are confused, or you’re just lost and dizzy and can’t find your way back to arena.  When someone believes in you more than you believe in yourself, you will go back, every single time, and the simple act of going back is an act of winning.  Likewise, when you offer the same selfless encouragement to someone day after day, you grow stronger, smarter, more focused, and better at what you do, no more what it is you do.  It absolutely must go both ways or it does not work.

Believe in someone 100% all the time, help them with their strengths and weaknesses, and receive the same encouragement in return and you have every chance at success.  Blow this off at your own peril.  Let in someone who doesn’t really believe in you and the chances of that being a self-fulfilling prophecy become frighteningly tangible.

Give and get, learn and teach, share the lessons and overcome the obstacles.  If someone is going to be in your corner and you in theirs, the fight will be a lot less scary.

What I’d Wish I’d Known

Ten Tips Now for Then
by Ken Goldstein

About a year ago I was asked to give a talk to a group of high school seniors with aspirations to pursue entrepreneurial careers.  I though at length about when I could tell a bunch of young men and women who hadn’t even left home yet, in a voice they might actually hear and not ignore.

The path I picked was a series of tidbits that I wish I had known at their age, that might have made the next thirty years a bit easier to navigate.  My thinking was that if they only remembered one of the ten for even the next few years of their lives, the talk would have been successful.  I invited them to contact me any time and let me know how it was going, and a few have been in touch.

I thought I would d share the summary of the those ten tidbits here, and then over the next few weeks riff on each with a bit of cake under the frosting.  Understand that these have been borrowed and adapted, cut and pasted from friends, writers, bosses, and colleagues over the years, so if you smell poetic theft, you smell correctly.  I promise attribution as best I can in the follow-on entries.  These are not necessarily in order of importance, but emotional resonance at this particular moment in time.

1) The most important career decision we make is who we choose as a life partner.

2) Talent is precious — and rare — revere it!

3) The world is filled with 90 percenters — a.k.a. good enough is not good.

4) Networking is not going to parties — it’s helping as many people as we can as often as we can.

5) Investing is not the same as speculating.

6) A plan is something you have,  until you get hit.

7) Our greatest strength are our greatest weaknesses.

8) The harder you work, the luckier you get.

9) Tell people what you are going to do, then do it.

10) The journey is the reward — it will take longer, cost more, and return less than you think, so you better enjoy it.

Stay tuned for a more detail on each individual theme…