Talent + skill = the leadership armoury

Written by
Eugenio Pirri

03 Apr 2017

03 Apr 2017 • by Eugenio Pirri

Talent and skill. Just like the chicken and the egg, many a leader has questioned which comes first. Is it a born talent which provides you with the skill, or is it the ability to learn a skill which develops the talent?

In my opinion it is neither. Individuals have innate talents which cannot be created, nor forced. Talent can be enhanced, but it cannot be taught from scratch. Skill, on the other hand, can be learned and developed with no prior experience. So, no matter how hard you try, talent cannot be born out of skill.

Yet both are absolutely vital when creating your leadership framework.

Talent inherent ability

I love to draw yet no matter how hard I try, I will never be the next Pablo Picasso. Sure, I can take art classes and improve my painting skills, but I will never have the natural talent of highly regarded artists. Yet, when I think about it, I’m very talented at strategy. I’m able to think big, see the roadmap and figure out how to get to the destination far easier than some of my counterparts.

Does that mean I’m better than them? Of course not. It just means I have a natural ability in strategy, whereas they have strength elsewhere.

Which is why I dislike confining talent to groups or ‘pools’ or hi-po’s. Instead, I define talent as everyone. Because talent is abundant – you just need to figure out what yours is. Whether that’s singing, painting, strategy, customer service or something else; once you understand your own talents you will recognise with whom, and where, you can work well and what you can do to enhance your natural ability and thus your success as a leader.

In my experience, when we think about our talents, where we often go wrong is by seeing it as a very black and white subject; you either have it or you don’t. Instead, I argue, that we should view and discuss talent as a spectrum, where a range of talents are listed in order of how naturally talented you are at them. Continuing with my own example, strategy would be at the top of my spectrum and futuristic would be at the development end. It doesn’t mean I’m not talented at imaging what’s over the horizon, I just need to develop this area more than by strategic abilities. 

Understanding your strengths, though also adapting mindset around talent, is critical in creating sustainable people leadership. I would encourage all aspiring or in-role leaders to take one of the various tests online from the likes of Gallup or StrengthFinders.

Skill developed capabilities

Regardless of how much exposure you’ve had, skill can be taught. It’s my belief, however, that as leaders we spend too much time thinking about hard skills such as writing and public speaking, and not enough time contemplating and developing emotional skills like empathy, caring and listening, which are vital in our leadership framework.

There are people out there who say you can master anything by putting in 10,000 hours of practice; however, to my mind, it involves more than that. Developing skill is about determination, dedication, desire. It’s about using your talent to boost your skill. So if you know your strength is being analytical, use that to master your skill by studying, exploring and analysing the subject. Use the tools available to you – don’t just rely on practice.

I firmly believe that everyone – leaders, managers, employees – has a natural ability to achieve near perfect performance if their abilities are matched with the right role, right department and right business. So, getting a handle on your talents and skills now will only serve you well in your mission to thrive as a leader and maximise your performance, and that of your team.

Next column: how would you define your leadership style?

Eugenio Pirri is the Vice President of People and Organisational Development at luxury hotel management company, Dorchester Collection. This column is based upon his first book, Be A People Leader: a sustainable framework for achieving your full potential (RRP £9.99) which is available via Amazon and all good bookstores.