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The Talent Myth, Jim Kouzes, Keynote, The Leadership Challenge Forum 2008

Posted Oct 22 2008 9:30pm

Leadership_challenge_forum_2008_k_2 LiveBlogging from the Keynote

"The trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated", Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, Freakonomics.  I've been thinking about this a lot.  I've become uneasy with the talent message: find the right person for the right job and all of us will be saved.  I am concerned about it.  With shows like " America's Got Talent" and " American Idol" we have turned the selection and recruitment of people into a contest.  People watch and then phone in a vote we've selected the people.  I've starting looking more into this idea of talent.

I'd like to start with a training activity:  Think for a moment about yourself--something that you consider yourself to be an expert at, something you are consistently good at: knitting, sport, coaching, training . . . what did it take to get to this level of expertise?  Think for about 60 seconds or so and turn to the person next to you for a couple of minutes and talk with each other about that list.  What did it take for you to become experts?

What was on the list?  Practice, failure, observation, life-long learning, encouragement, opportunity to try, trial and error, caring, making mistakes, role model, stubbornness, value of activity, desire, innate ability, and some talent.

What might be learned from this conversation:  There is some pattern to this. How about the question: were you born to do this or did this develop?  It is a journey, you have some talent and innate ability, but was that enough? NO.

[Picture of Tiger Woods image on screen, swinging golf club at 3-years old.] What do people assume? Child prodigy.  Obsessive parents.  Mozart at 7.  What do they assume? Prodigy?  His father was musician and music teacher.  We see pictures of these people, most people say "talent" and "I couldn't do it".  "The first major conclusion is that nobody is great without work.  It is nice to believe that if you find the field where you're naturally gifted, you'll be great one day, but it doesn't happen."

Talent does not equal expertise.

Just because you are born with something, does it make you and expert?  No. People can be in jobs, roles for 25 years and never become an expert.  You may know some of them. Why is that? Here's an example: How many of you drive a car?  Are you an expert?  How about if you get out in the Indy 500? Suddenly you don't know what you are doing.  You haven't had the training and development . . .

No learning style contributes more than another to being an effective leader.  All type of learning can lead to becoming an effective leader. The more you engage in learning the more effective you become.  Duh!  Apply this to the notion of talent. 

Santa Clara University students have to go through leadership development.  They were then compared to students who did not 4 years later--they scored higher on LPI than those who had not been through a leadership program.  Students in college.  Same is true for executives in business.

Leadership or surgery or nursing or playing chess or any other kind of sport, the finding is in every instance is not depended up natural gifts or IQ--it is about engaging in deliberate practice.

--posted by Deb Nasitka 

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