Is Talent Enough?

I always introduce the young women I mentor as “brilliant and talented”. And they are. The point isn’t whether you are those things or not, it’s what you do with them. I have a smart friend in the psychology profession. She has a lot of initials after her name proving she’s been thorough in her training and qualified, not just because she says so, but because she has the sheepskins to prove it. Yet, she often disqualifies herself from the modern world of computing and business matters by saying, “I’m so bad at that stuff.” She thinks that excuses her – and while she practices her profession with a waiting room full of clients, I guess it’s okay. But if things change and the world has less need for what she does and more for those business-side skills. Then what? Can any of us afford to be just talented anymore?

In the “old days” I worked in advertising…big international agencies with big international clients. Yet, it was acceptable, in fact, even desirable, for each of us to do our job and no one else’s. Creative people created. Account managers managed. Clients manufactured and served customers. We all lived happily ever after.

Then, the paradigm shifted. We all had to learn desktop computing, then mobile computing, now cloud computing. God help the laggards.

Now, the way I see it, we can’t get by with just skills let alone just talent. We have to have skill sets. We can’t just do a job, stay for 30 years and get a pension when we retire. Most people consider 5 years a long time in a single position. In fact, if you’re not tracking an upward trajectory through job changes every few years, people wonder what the matter with you is…

Back then, when I was in television production, I went to a set or on location all the time with film crews comprised of “departments” of specifically skilled workers handling one job on the set and one job only. (you see the credits at the end of movies the way film crews function on a commercial production set) As an “agency producer” I was taught early that part of my job included knowing how to do everybody else’s job just in case “they got hit by a bus”. I was expected to pick up the art director’s or the writer’s function, and any other job that might be suddenly vacated, and just do it. That’s been my orientation ever since and probably what fed my entrepreneurial nature until I finally had my own business years later.

When my brilliant and talented mentor of many years ago rose head and shoulders above the “men’s club” mentality she faced on a daily basis at work, it wasn’t just because she was a great art director. It was because she could hold her own in a conference room of clients and agency directors commanding their complete respect and attention. She worked with her teams, yet she also firmly led them. She worked as hard or harder than anyone reporting to her. She was fearless and cared little about whether she was liked by everyone. She knew her own mind and broadcast her standards for all who came in contact with her. She was strict with those who reported to her yet they all felt supported and even championed. I know I did.

All in, the requirements for success haven’t changed much. The winning DNA: lead with integrity, consistency and reliability. Be accessible but not a push over. Stand behind your people but don’t coddle them. Make your standards clear to all and defend their right to uphold them.
Be ever curious and teachable. And for certain, especially during times like these, when talent is NOT enough, be willing to go outside your professional comfort zone.