“What Makes a Top Performer in Business?” Series: Part I

Sitting on my shelf collecting dust bunnies since last fall, I finally decided to pick up and open the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.

What suddenly peaked my interest in the talent subject was graduating exactly a year ago and where I have come in my career since then.  It got me thinking about where and what I will be many years from now.

Within the past year, I have followed, read, met, and spoken with many great business leaders in all industries, and this got me thinking about career paths and just how do people get to the top. Are they always in it to win it, or do they just go with the flow from a strategic plan?

When you see or hear the word “talent,” what instantly comes into your mind? Is it sports, a favorite game of yours, or the skills required in your job?

We might think that world-class performers in any area of interest were born with an unexplained “gift.” Geoff Colvin states that researchers found that superstars like Bill Gates, Jack Welch, or Warren Buffet are just like everyone else from the start of their careers. Anyone can reach to be world class performers in their industry by exhausting deliberate practice. Researchers found few signs of advanced achievement before the individuals started intensive training, stated Colvin.

One could argue that, well if it’s not a natural “gift,” then it has to be IQ. Yet, Colvin pointed out something I never realized before, “…IQ was of no value in predicting how quickly they would improve. Many studies of adults in the workplace have shown the same pattern.”

So, if high achievers and intelligence aren’t intertwined, then how can a company find and keep the talent to grow?

Colvin coined the term “human ability,” and he determined that it’s a company’s scarcest resource to date. Companies need to spot potential, provide constant challenges and, offer growth opportunities in order to develop an employee to become a phenomenon. This way, companies can continuously build success from their highly-developed employees, which will yield limitless potential.

Bill Gates once said:

“If you took the twenty smartest people out of Microsoft it would be an insignificant company, and if you ask around the company what its core competency is, they don’t say anything about software. They say it’s hiring. They know what the scarce resource is.”

The main message from Colvin’s book thus far: no one knows if they have or will acquire these traits to become a world-class performer. The question is: what makes some people excel more than others? Stay tuned for part two…

Photo credit: zimbio.com

Post written by Julie Skowronek, Assistant Marketing Manager at Whiting Consulting.

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Overcoming Personal Fears In the Workplace

"The King's Speech"

I don’t know about you, but I loved the movie “The Kings Speech.”

I have been a fan of the British monarchy since I was a child, and the day Lady Diana married Prince Charles I can remember staying home from school to watch the wedding on TV with my mom.  It is one of my fondest memories, which is why the movie spoke to me in so many ways.

I didn’t know much about King George VI, and I did not realize that he had such a struggle with speaking… especially publically. At the time that he was given the throne, all of the hype was around his brother’s abdication of the throne to marry a twice-divorced American. I never really thought about how King George must have felt about taking on a job that he not only never expected to have, but a position that he felt was very much above his ability to perform well — in addition to it being such an internationally-public job. It is very evident that speech therapist Lionel Logue’s continual work with King George VI regarding his stammering, and nerves while in the public arena, made an impact that affected more than just his “job.”

I then started thinking about how much the same thing truly happens in the workplace today. How many times we are asked to do something that paralyzes us with fear, yet we need to show the courage of King George and press on? My guess is that one time or another, we have all faced that kind of fear.

We all have our personal struggles in the workplace: whether it is public speaking, writing, or presenting to upper management.  Couple that normal fear with the fact that our recent economy has forced fewer people to carry increased workloads, and the stressors multiply.

In the past in situations like this, you might have been able to find a job where you could “hide” from the activities that frightened you – but not anymore. Each of us is asked to do more, and the support that was traditionally offered to assist us with working on your skills, such as training in public speaking and training in giving effective presentations, is usually the part of the budget first cut in economically-difficult times. As cited by bnet.com in August 2010, “What’s the first thing to get cut when companies are economizing? It’s always training. In the last three years, training budgets have fallen by nearly a quarter.”[1]

As a result, we have been forced us to face our fears on our own. Odds are you won’t have the wonderful privilege of working with a trainer or mentor, and you won’t be developing the great relationship that King George VI and Lionel Logue did in “The Kings Speech.”

Last year, I was at a conference, and we were talking about social media and how all employees should to take a part in being a spokesperson for their company. As a result, with little training, they end up putting themselves out there and hope for the best. I remember the time when I was just beginning to contribute on social media platforms. I was so scared that I would look silly or embarrass my company or myself.  I felt that I was not a strong writer and didn’t have the ability to think quickly on my feet. I thought, “Who would want to listen to me?”

But I found some help, watched what others were doing, and stuck my neck out there.

At first, it was very scary for me… thinking about every tweet or comment, but now after a year of being on-line, I am not afraid anymore. So, in a way, practice does make perfect. I’ve learned that organizations need to first understand their team members at a personal level, and they can then provide the support they need to succeed.  They need to be the “mentor” who stands beside King George while he gives the speech of a lifetime.


[1] “Stop! Don’t Cut That Training Budget, “http://www.bnet.com/blog/business-strategy/stop-don-8217t-cut-that-training-budget/455, August 31, 2010.

Photo credit: Rottentomatoes.com

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