"I'll take a hard working employee any day over a talented employee;" David erupted, "these folks with talent turn out to depend only on their talent and nothing else."  We had just met at a business event, and were having a conversation about talent and hard work, and my new acquaintance was quite vocal about his preference. As a talent discovery coach, people will often engage me on this topic; some just to make a point about their preference.

So, if you had to choose, would you take a hard working person over a talented person? I guess the answer would depend on what you need the person to do. My preference will always lean towards starting with talent. But it does not stop there. Ask any sports coach, they'll tell you that they always start with talent; hard work is a discipline that can be taught. When I brought up the sports reference during my conversation, David's response was "that is sports, and not the work place; it's different." Is it? I don't think so.

"Nothing great was built fast"

A few months back, I met with a HR executive at a large organization. As we talked about talent discovery, and the role it plays in engaging employees and building solid teams, I told him about the Highlands Ability Battery, and why I believe it is one of the best talent assessment tools out there.  He was engaged and eager to learn more about it, until he heard that it takes about 3.5 hours to complete the assessment.

"Oh, that’s a long time; we can’t offer that to our employees,” was his response. 

I explained that the assessment is broken up into 5-10 minute sections, and does not have to be taken at one sitting. He just would not get over the fact that the whole assessment would take 3.5 hours.

So then, I thought, how much time is acceptable for a person to invest in understanding more about who they are? An hour? A few hours? A few days or months? Think about it for a minute; an assessment that uncovers your natural abilities, personality, thinking pattern, the types of work best suited for you and your ideal work environment, and this guy thinks it’s too much time! I was lost for words.

How much time are you willing to invest in discovering who you are?

Spending a year with uncle Al, taught me many life lessons. My uncle was a lapidarist; he cut and sold precious stones for a living. My first stone buying outing with him opened my eyes to some key lessons which relate to what I do as a talent discovery coach.


The fields that were mined for precious stones used to be farmland, and had been in the families of the local miners for ages. The current generation of miners like their fathers, got up everyday to dig the ground using their rudimentary tools. Most days, they found nothing of worth; but they were up the next day digging for treasure. Why? Because, they knew their were precious stones in the ground. They did not put it there, but it was there. Their job was to keep digging each day to unearth what was already there.

The same is true with our talents; we did not put them their. We were born with them. Our part is to discover them and put them to use. I have had people tell me they do not believe everyone was born with talent. They reason that if that were true, we would all excel in our fields. Well, just like I can't explain how the precious stones in the ground got there, I am unable to explain how certain abilities are hardwired into us while still in the womb. My job is not to debate the source but to facilitate the discovery and development.



“Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.”

~ Pablo Picasso

Many years ago, I heard a speaker say “you were born an original. Don’t die a copy.” Inherent in this statement is a core truth, and what can also be labeled a misleading fact. You were born an original; true. Don’t die a copy; true. But what happens between when you are born and when you die? Herein lies the misleading fact. At face value, this statement discourages living a life trying to be someone else. But it can also mislead us into thinking that imitating others is altogether bad. As a person who studies, teaches and coaches on talent development, I can tell you that imitation is critical to becoming very good or great at whatever it is you want to do.

In 2013, I attended a workshop on communication skills. The coach had a formula that he wanted us to use. Every good speech has a beginning, middle and end; how you begin makes the all the difference in how the rest of the presentation turns out. The coach wanted us to start with what was most important to the listener, and specifically to start with the statement “I understand that you…” And fill in the blanks with whatever was most important to our listener. There were a few people in the class who wanted to start with a question or a story. The coach kept insisting they start with the statement he wrote on the board. The push-back from these few folks was “this sounds mechanical, I want to use my own words.” To which the coach responded “you can put it in your own words later, but for now, use my words.” Was he being egotistical? No. The coach had learned a fundamental principle of personal development; you imitate before you innovate.

When Dr. Cliff Lee announced to his colleagues that he was quitting neurosurgery to pursue pottery, they thought he had gone “pots,” no pun intended. Cliff Lee was a hardworking neurosurgeon who sometimes performed as many as 8 surgeries a day, working 12 – 14 hours a day for 6 to 7 days a week. The discipline and ethics of hard work instilled in him by his parents have always guided Cliff in everything he set out to do.

During a conversation with one of his patients, Cliff casually mentioned that he was looking for a hobby which would help him relax. This particular patient was a potter, and invited Cliff to visit their studio. He accepted the invitation. “As soon as I touched clay, I fell in love” says Cliff, “time went by so fast, like meditation. Not too long after that, I started making pottery in my basement, every day after work.”


Jenny was in her 50's when she became a client. She had been with her company for many years, enjoyed the people with whom she worked, but no longer enjoyed what she did; burnout was setting in. She knew she had to make a change, but quitting her job was not going to be that easy. Jenny and her husband were on a salary, and quitting her job would have upset their stability. Transitioning to a new career would take time, and she first had to figure out what her talents were and how best to use them. It took us about a year to figure out her talents and how best to use them, and another year to start the transition process. Jenny is on her way to becoming a Chick-Fil-A franchisee this year.

How a person transitions from one career to another will depend on where they are in life; it is not always a simple decision. To explain the transition, I use the analogy of a kayak, speed boat, frigate and aircraft carrier to explain the different stages from which career transitions are made.

Smart companies have learned to do more with less. The Kaizen and TQM movement that started in the 80’s helped foster a culture of constant improvement of internal processes in organizations. Most companies today try to maximize employee productivity by giving more work/responsibilities to already over-worked employees (in most cases.) I am a big proponent of getting the best out of what or who you have, but most companies are going about it the wrong way. Asking more of your employees without developing them to do more, is like lighting a stick of dynamite and hoping it procrastinates on exploding. 

Most people want to give their best at work and in life, but they just don’t know how. Why? They are not engaged in their area of strength. The Gallup organization conducted a survey that showed an increase in productivity in employees who use their talents at work. Organizations that focus on helping their employees work in their area of strength will get so much more out of them.

The specific benefits are threefold:

  1. Engaged employees work more.
  2. Engaged employees learn more.
  3. Engaged employees innovate more.

Engaged Employees Work More:
The Gallup work engagement survey showed that only 28% of our adult work force are engaged at work. Simply put, only 28% use their talent in their role at work, enjoy what they do, and like the person/team they work for. If this holds true, and I believe it does, it tells me that most people at work are not working their full 8 hours productively. They may be at their desk, but their brains are most likely elsewhere. How much is this costing companies? With disengaged employees being more easily distracted, let’s assume they muster about 3.5 – 4 hours of productive work daily. What is the net loss to the company?


"What is talent?" I asked a room full of mid level managers.

"Something you are good at," some said. Other responses were "something you are passionate about, something you enjoy doing, something others say you are good at." One person even chimed in "the people that work for you."

From the look on my face, they could tell they were close to the answer, but not exactly what I wanted to hear. This misdefinition (yes, I just made that word up,) of talent is the key reason many people are not living up to their full potential, and why companies are not getting the best of their employees. The confusion over the definition of talent is not new. There are five schools of thought on how talent is viewed:

  1. Talent as giftedness: How you are naturally wired.
  2. Talent as strength: What you have developed.
  3. Talent as meta-competency: Advanced skills that aid development of other abilities.
  4. Talent as high potential: Possibilities that lie within you.
  5. Talent as high performance: What you actually do.

In the talent/strengths world, we describe this as the tension on the "nature-nurture tension."

Talent encompasses all five descriptions, but the KEY qualifier for talent is that it has to be an ability you are born with. It starts as a gift and through development, it is developed into a strength. What you believe about talent will determine how you lead your workforce. Let's explore how each view determines this.

This title sounded strange to me initially, but I kept coming back to it. What is work? The answer would seem obvious to many, but let’s take a step back and ask that question again. What is work? More importantly, how do you define work? This is critical because how you define or think of work, will determine how you approach work, and what you get out of it.

Some definitions of work I found online are:

Work as a noun

  1. Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
  2. Mental or physical activity as a means of earning income; employment.

Work as a verb

  1. Be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a purpose or result, especially in one's job; do work.

Work Synonyms: labor, toil, slog, drudgery, exertion, effort, industry, service, employment, a job, a position, a situation, an occupation, a profession, a career, a vocation, a calling.

Look at the first six synonyms; do any of these words describe how you see your work? For most people, the answer would be yes. Most people see work as a means of earning income through some sort of labor in order to pay for the other aspects of their lives. If you don’t think this is true, ask 10-20 people what they think of work.

A few years ago, I was invited by a Fortune 500 company to deliver a webinar to 800 of Project Managers scattered around the country. I was going to teach on why having a clear mission statement helps people connect with the work or company, and I would use their mission statement to teach this. The only problem was that I couldn’t find their mission statement. I looked on their website, and searched on Google. I couldn’t find their mission statement. I called a few people in the company and asked what their mission statement is; nobody could give me an answer. How can a company this big not have a clear mission statement?

When any organization is fuzzy on its mission statement, they make it hard to show employees where they fit in the big picture. The mission is the big picture, and if that is missing, it makes easy to lose track of what’s really important. The mission statement helps you clarify what you do, why you do it, and the critical things you need to focus on.


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Talent Resources

DNA of Talent
A Blueprint for Discovering Your Talents and Putting Them to Work

Finding Your Sweet Spot
Where your Talents, Interests and Passions converge to deliver the life you were born to live.