Merge's Blog

Skills vs talent? Focus on skills

Last week I blogged about how one should hire for attitude, not skills.  My post prompted a few emails from readers, and it got me thinking not just about skills vs attitude, but about skills vs talent.  What exactly is the difference between attitude and talent?  For the definitive answer, I went to my dictionary.

Attitude vs talent

An attitude is a mental position, a feeling, or an emotion with regard to a fact or state.

A talent is a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude.

So, an attitude is a state of mind, a talent is an aptitude, so innate or a natural ability which is inborn.

Last week, when I talked about skills vs attitude, I said that skills were teachable and attitude isn’t, and I still stand behind that statement.  When I compare talent to attitude though, talent, for the most part, is even more intrinsic than attitude.  At least a person can choose to change their attitude; but talents are there from birth and so while they can be honed and enhanced, they cannot be acquired over time.

Skills vs talent

skills vs talentSo it got me thinking about skills vs talent.  According to my definitions, skills are teachable, but talents aren’t.  Or wait a minute … are they?  A leader’s job is to effect change in people, by creating an environment in which people will choose to change.  If skills can be learned but talent is inherent, then as leaders, we should always assume that everything our employees are required to do are skills.  Because this assumption allows our employees to believe that the changed behaviour can be learned.  If we assume that the behaviours we desire are talents, then there is no room for people to learn.

This sounds circuitous, so let me explain why the skills vs talent notion is important.  Let’s say I have an employee who is struggling to understand several fairly complex procedures.  If I assume that detailed analysis is a talent, then the outcome is that the employee will be unable to do the task.  But if I assume that detailed analysis is a skill, then it is just a matter of investing the time and resources into teaching the employee.  Do you see the difference?

Let me give you another example.  I have an employee who is required to make presentations to very large groups and is showing nervousness and anxiety.  If I assume that speaking in front of a crowd is a talent, then I might as well give up on the employee now.  But if I assume that it is a skill, then giving my employee training on public speaking and anxiety management will get him to the required level of competence.

So … as leaders, we should assume that everything our employees do are skills, not talents.  Because this belief demonstrates confidence in our people, and creates the right environment in which they will choose to grow and develop.

Well, your thoughts?  Agree or disagree?  Are there some competencies that can only be talents, not skills?  Would love to hear your viewpoints.

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