Great managers select for talent

I am in the process of reading “First Break All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman. The book makes the insightful point that great managers understand the difference between skills, knowledge and talent:

  1. Skills are abilities that may be acquired by training. For example, a mathematics teacher must be skilled in arithmetic, a secretary must be skilled in typing, and a baker must be skilled in baking bread. A skill may be taught by breaking down the performance of a task into steps, which can then be practiced.
  2. Knowledge is simply “what you are aware of”. There are two kinds of knowledge: (1) factual knowledge are things that you know; and (2) experiential knowledge are understandings that you have picked up along the way.
  3. Talent is “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied.” You may have an instinctive ability to remember names, or be in the habit of playing with numbers and equations in your head – both of these are talents. A talent is any behaviour that you find yourself doing often and which can be applied in a productive way.

Skill, knowledge, and talent are all necessary elements to achieve excellent performance, talent being the most important element. Skills and knowledge can be taught relatively easily, however talent is difficult to teach. For example, one of the key talents required to be a great accountant is “love of precision”. Love of precision is not a skill, nor is it knowledge, but this talent is needed to excel at accounting.

The definition of talent is seemingly innocuous but has a powerful implication – excellence requires talent. A great manager understands that to excel in any role requires talent because each role, when performed with excellence, requires certain recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour.

Understanding the importance of talent, great managers are good at identifying the talents of their people and then allocating each person to a role where they can use their talents most effectively.