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Capability: Part 8 – Talent


  • Talents

  • Skill

  • Knowledge

  • Use

  • Design

  • Scaffolding


What is the difference between a talent and a strength?
A strength is the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity.

Talents are naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.

Talents, knowledge, and skills — along with the time spent (i.e., investment) practicing, developing your skills, and building your knowledge base — combine to create your strengths.

For example, being drawn toward strangers and enjoying the challenge of making a connection with them are talents (from the Woo theme), whereas the ability to consistently build a network of supporters who know you and are prepared to help you is a strength.

To build this strength, you have refined your talents with skills and knowledge.

Likewise, the tendency to confront others is a talent (from the Command theme), whereas the ability to sell successfully is a strength. To persuade others to buy your product, you must have combined your talent with product knowledge and certain selling skills.

Although talents, skills, and knowledge are each important for building a strength, talent is always the most important. The reason is that your talents are innate and cannot be acquired, unlike skills and knowledge.

For example, as a salesperson you can learn your products’ features (knowledge), you can be trained to ask the right open-ended questions (a skill), and you can practice making a sale (investment). However, the innate tendency to push a customer to commit at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right way must be naturally occurring and cannot be learned.

The key to building a fully developed strength is to identify your most dominant talents, which are likely found within your top five themes, then complement them with acquired knowledge, skills, and investment. – Gallup

A Talent Is an Innate Capability

The Spanish have a phrase which nicely captures this connotation: “Compañero, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar.” A translation is: “My friend, there is no road. You make the road as you walk.”

Yet, for a leader, design and scaffolding of TALENT into strengths that can be applied in the right circumstances is a leverage point for postmodern leaders.

Couched within the other elements of CAPABILITY DYNAMICS, the understanding of TALENT = self-knowledge>>self-awareness, and the “application” of that knowledge to design and scaffolding.

BLANK SLATE (@BS) Is a Danger

A VERY important idea that has surfaced with our experience in the world of life, work, and play is the idea that “anyone can be, do, have, become, or contribute anything” @BS. And it’s become a socially accepted norm that often is deadly to leaders to resist @PC. After all, we don’t want to diminish people, or lose the Pygmalion effect which has always proved to be important.

Yet, reality is shifting about what we can do and how much of it we can do in the time required. Complexity, an increase in the number of variables coupled with often long time delays in cause and effect, is creating a real challenge for everyone and anyone leading in the face of accelerating complexity.

There are two important ideas that I want to impress upon you;

1) People learn faster, deeper, and dimensionally broader in areas where they have innate TALENT.

2) Deploying TALENT with design and then scaffolding that TALENT will become a key competence for postmodern leaders. You won’t see that anywhere yet, but the way in which we recruit, mold, manage, lead and collaborate with TALENT will become the difference between failure and success in and over time.

We could say the same for Capability in general.

TALENT’s Hidden Secret

Inform through limitations, reform through TALENT!

Self-knowledge>>Self-Awareness lends itself to discover and model our limitations as much as our strengths, but the “secret” is to design for TALENT and scaffold limits.

In my almost 3 decades of coaching professionally, I have seen very little change (that wasn’t the result of change already being present–not yet triggered) where people were not living, working or playing in TALENT areas.

There is a natural immune response to change requiring us to give up our advantage provided by TALENT. This can be extremely difficult for people, as leaders meet with the limits of their TALENT and suffer negative consequences.

However, what has been successful for me as a coach, guide, mentor, advisor and consultant in development has been to help people take full advantage of their TALENT and minimize the damage created by limits.

Natural Resistance to Change

We avoid change that is not required or not needed, preferring instead–except in the very few whose TALENT is morphing themselves–to remain engaged in experiences that reflect their TALENTS.

FEW of us have the luxury, or so it seems, to work consistently in areas of our TALENT so we make tradeoffs necessary between happiness and success to get what we want.

Idea @F-L-O-W

The idea with shifting from an underlying operating system @BS that says “anyone can be, do, have, become and contribute anything to an operating system @F-L-O-W which minimizes tradeoffs through design and scaffolding of TALENT is a huge shift in the way we have to think about VUCA.

As complexity reigns and accelerates, fewer and fewer of us have the TALENT to be, do, have, become and contribute anything but in those narrow areas where we have TALENT. This is not a self-imposed limit, or a limit imposed on others!


It’s a recognition that we have entered a new age that requires us to view TALENT in a much different light and to elevate the nature of talent to the consideration of how capability emerges in life, work and play.

We all have natural talents, but the greatest leaders are unusually aware of theirs. – StrengthsQuest

Dr. Clare W. Graves, a researcher in the 50s and 60s identified a VALUES SYSTEM which helps us understand this “shift” in the way we see TALENT as a part of CAPABILITY DYNAMICS:

While written more than 3 decades ago, the meaning is prescient.

Design & Scaffolding

This shift in our thinking that everyone can, and wants to –> therefore should @BS is replaced by the idea that everyone can’t, won’t want to –> therefore should NOT @F-L-O-W opens the door from the “great” leader to the “collaborative” leader who is quick to recognize individual limitations — their own limitations — and promote design and scaffolding that emphasizes TALENT and minimizes limits, self and other imposed.


This system is a meta-system because doing something somewhere affects other components in an interdependent process. If we can get leaders to collaborate in design and scaffolding of TALENT and limits, we “automatically” promote “positive AFFECT.” attunement, well-being, happiness and penultimately sustainable success.

In our NEXT edition of CAPABILITY DYNAMICS, we focus on AFFECT.

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    Mike R. Jay is a developmentalist utilizing consulting, coaching, mentoring and advising as methods to offer developmental scaffolding for aspiring leaders who are interested in being, doing, having, becoming, and contributing… to helping people have lives.

    Mike R. Jay
    Leadership University

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