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We Over Me: The Difference Between Being Talented and Being a Leader

We Over Me: The Difference Between Being Talented and Being a Leader

August 2023


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We regularly talk about talent these days. 

There’s an ongoing talent gap in many industries. Talent shortages are growing due to a lack of training and experience. Talent recruitment is a priority. Talent retention is an even bigger deal.&

We may be obsessed with recruiting, developing, and retaining talent, but it isn’t everything.&

The Need to Prioritize the “We Over the Me”

While talent is important, I would argue that it’s merely the result of good leadership. Yes, it is naturally present in many individuals, but in most cases, it requires a savvy leader to draw out, develop, and mold it. Here’s an example to demonstrate my point.&

A skilled fisherman is talented. However, a leader can create the space for mediocre or new anglers to develop the skills to become truly talented masters of their craft. Put a talented fisherman in that same leadership position without the right tools, skills, and mentality, and they’re going to struggle to achieve results.&

I’ll say it again. Individuals are born with natural talents and skills. I’m not denying that. However, we often elevate these naturally talented people based on their personal skill sets and then expect to see them perform with similar success as a leader on a larger scale.& &

This is inherently doomed to failure. You can’t take someone who is accustomed to success through their own efforts and expect them to coax that same level of success out of others.& &

This is what I call the “we over the me” mentality. Good leaders don’t use their own skills to generate success. They are willing to step aside and embrace the community that they lead. They give others agency and help bring the best out of those around them.&

“We Vs. Me” in the World of Sports 

As a former professional athlete, I often see the “we vs. me” mentality play out on the field. Take two of the greatest men to ever play football as another example: Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick. Manning led multiple teams to the super bowl and was a master at surgically dissecting defenses through his elite quarterback play. He was immensely talented and one of the best individuals at his job.&

Bill Belichick stayed cloaked (quite literally, thanks to those hoodies) in moody anonymity on the sidelines. He didn’t get on the field, throw the ball, or even tackle anyone. Instead, he inspired others to elevate their performance and do their best — and he gave them the environment within which to do so. Belichick created schemes and systems that brought the best out of his players. He demanded excellence through proper leadership, coaching, training, and ongoing development.&

Manning was a generational talent, and yet for all his personal capabilities, he couldn’t win more than a championship or two. In contrast, Belichick created a dynasty that could thrive through both the ups and the downs by always bringing out the best in everyone.&

Bringing Exceptional Talent and Sound Leadership Together 

Of course, the truth is that you need both talent and leadership for an organization — athletic or otherwise — to succeed. However, particularly in the upper echelons of organizations, I think we tend to obsess over flashy talent rather than honor and prioritize the process of leading, even though the latter is what turns partly-developed talent into exceptionally capable members of the C-suite.&

“We tend to obsess over flashy talent rather than honor and prioritize the process of leading, even though the latter is what turns partly-developed talent into exceptionally capable members of the C-suite.” 

If I can be allowed to use one more simple analogy here, consider the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. There is a method to that transformation. Plus, even the best caterpillar must learn how to use its wings before it can complete that transformation and thrive.&

In the same way, we must consider the journey that talent must take to go from impressive to outstanding. In the workplace — and especially in the C-suite — we have to resist expecting “caterpillars” to fly without developing an environment that is conducive to their growth.&

That’s where working with a quality executive search consultant can help. Executive recruiters can help identify the talent within a leadership team that is ready for further development. They can also help discover which highly skilled individuals within an organization can go beyond their current skill sets and add leadership skills into the mix. When this happens, it perpetuates the cycle of leaders developing others’ talent throughout your company’s future activities.&

Loving the Process, Not Just the Prize 

It’s time we gave our obsession with talent a reality check. Of course you want to have the best talent on your team. No one is arguing that. But you can’t stop there.&

If you want your leadership team (and, by extension, your organization) to thrive, you have to look past the limitations of individual talent and embrace a “we over the me” mentality. Only then can you expect to see a self-perpetuating cycle of success within your corporate culture.&

About the Author

As a former professional athlete, Al Smith Jr. is fueled by creating winning strategies in the teams that he builds, the execution techniques he deploys, and the trusted partnerships that he creates. With an extensive background in talent acquisition across multiple industries including healthcare, finance, aerospace, and manufacturing, Al’s expertise enables him to be a multifaceted leadership partner, aiding his clients in their most important decisions: selecting and retaining superior executive leadership talent.& & & &

In his role as Director at Stanton Chase, Al primarily conducts executive search within the industrial, consumer products, government, and technology sectors. He works with Fortune 500 corporations as well as small to midsize organizations who benefit from his ability to intersect passion and purpose through relationships at the highest levels of leadership.  

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