Leadership Core: Talents

My daughter plays the violin.  More accurately, she is learning to play the violin as she participates in the fifth-grade orchestra.  She practices for about 30 minutes most days.  When I am working from home, the music carries through her bedroom floor and into my home office.  She’s quite good.  Earlier this week I realized the familiar tune coming through my ceiling was not “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or one of the other simple tunes I’ve head for months, but a Coldplay tune.  Later that day I asked her who taught her the  song.  She replied, “Nobody, I just taught myself.”

I have zero musical talent, so anyone who can manipulate an instrument to create a noticeable tune is just this side of a magician, in my book.  I once had an eager church member lend me a very nice guitar and a lesson book.  He told me if I could learn to play the guitar, I could have it.  I had to return the guitar after a few months of futility.

Why is it that some people have musical ability and others of us are relegated to being audience members?  Why can some of us work very hard at learning a skill, a sport, a trade, or a hobby and never make the progress that some have without any effort at all?  You and I both know the answer: talent.

Along with personality (which we looked at last week), talent is part of a leader’s core strength.  Today, let’s take a look at how to make the most of your talent.

A Form of Grace

I’m sure there is a well-formed theology of talent out there somewhere.  Some talented theologian has probably nailed this down with beauty and simplicity.  I am not talented at finding that theologian, so I’ve developed my own theology of talent.  Simply put, talent is a bit of God’s grace given to an individual in order to bless the individual, bless others, and bless God.

The textbook definition of grace is “God’s unmerited favor.”  I think this definition certainly describes the origin of talent.  A talent is an unearned foundational ability.   Better said, it is an unearned foundation for ability.  The point is that talent is unearned.  Some people inherit talent from similarly talented parents, but others seem just to be touched by God.  Like the three stewards in Jesus’ story, each of us is given some measure of talent(s).  The question is what we do with the talents we are given.

Talent + Training + Tenacity = Ability

One truth about talent is that it sets us up for success in a potential area, but it does not guarantee success.  Talent alone is very rarely enough; to make the most of talent, you must involve two partners: training and tenacity.  When the three are combined, you get ability that is far closer to your true potential.

When we have the wrong attitude about talent, the naturalness of the talent can actually prevent us from reaching our full potential.  Too often talented people resist training because the talent comes so naturally, even effortlessly.  This is the downfall of many a naturally smart student who fails to study, fails to learn new concepts, fails to make the most of her ability by subjecting herself to training.  This is the downfall of many a gifted athlete who can outperform others to a certain level, but doesn’t train himself for elite competition.  And this is the downfall of many leaders who are talented at the practices necessary for helping organizations and individuals, but who hit a too-low ceiling in their leadership capacity because they are unwilling to learn leadership beyond their natural ability.

Earlier this week I received some tough feedback on a training module I created for my company, Internal Impact.  I may stink at music, but I am talented as a trainer.  So when the client’s agent shared some “best practices” for improving the module, I felt a bit smarted.  It wasn’t because I disagreed with the suggestions; it was because they came from someone other than me.  Subjecting oneself to training requires humility.  And humility is having an accurate assessment of oneself – not thinking too highly or too lowly of yourself and your ability.  When I learned that the person giving me the advice was a world-class, highly trained, very competent trainer, the sting from her feedback prodded me to improve and I grew thankful.

When talent and training are combined over a long period of time, it’s because of tenacity.  Tenacity is the persistent combination of talent, training and performance.  Tenacity prevents us from being distracted or detoured from making the most of talent.  When I was a kid growing up in North Carolina, there was a basketball prodigy in our high school conference.  Talented and well trained, he terrorized the conference, leaving shattered backboards and bedazzled fans.  To this day people still compare his potential to Shaquille O’Neal.  But he lacked tenacity and got detoured by drugs, poor choices in friends, and other bad decisions.  He was projected to be an NBA all star, but that never materialized.  All that talent and training went to waste because he lacked the resolve to make the most of his talent.

Each of us could recount similarly sad stories highlighting wasted talent.  But there is a flip side to the typical cautionary tale: training and tenacity without talent will not produce ability either (at least not great ability).  To make the most of your talent, you have to start with the talent God has given you.  Not all of us are gifted in music, or basketball, or even training.  Your array of talent is unique to you and exists are a special aspect of your core strength.  The talents God has given you are what you have to work with.

So what about you?  To make the most of your talent, consider these questions:

What talents have been gifted to you?

What training do you have that has accentuated your talent?

What training do you still need in order to make the most of your talent?

How tenacious are you when it comes to exercising and expanding your talent?

Who benefits from your talent?

About Chad Hall

Chad Hall is the Director of Coaching for Western Seminary and also serves as a leadership coach for ministry and corporate clients through his role as Partner with Coach Approach Ministries and iNTERNAL iMPACT.

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