The Five Indispensable Talents by Elaine Stirling
Leadership and talent feel like rare commodities these days. We ascribe leadership to people who sit high on the organizational chart, but where does that leave everyone else? As for talent, well, it’s nice if you can get it. The fact is, everyone of us carries leadership and talent within us. This means in an organization with one thousand employees, you have the potential of one thousand talented leaders. Can you imagine how that would look—talented leadership flowing through every office, plant and distribution center? If your answer is yes, then you’ve begun the process.
Eight thousand years ago, talent was a form of currency. One talent was equal to 3600 Babylonian shekels, and the word also meant balance, abundance and wealth—the goals most organizations, then and now, aspire to.
The ancients understood leadership too. At its simplest, leadership initiates. The writer leads the reader; the speaker leads the listener. In these binary relationships, both parties are necessary and occur in a certain order. But if you’re going to lead your readers and listeners from one place to someplace better, whether it’s improved operational standards or a reduction in employee absenteeism, a greater “something” is needed.
The ancients called that something quintessence, which means the presence of all five elements operating in balance. The elements in those days were fire, earth, air and water, with spirit or ether as the mysterious fifth—hard to measure in the 21st century. So what I’ve done is retained the template and updated the terms.
Five elements become five indispensable talents. We were born with four of them. Cultivate the fifth, and you become a brave new business leader. Practice them in every moment, and regardless of how things may appear on the balance sheet, you will move your organization toward prosperity.
1. Responsibility. This is the talent or ability to respond. As infants, our response ability was highly tuned and sensitive. If we didn’t want to be picked up, we wailed. A beam of light, a sudden noise, we were right there, all senses perked.
As adults, we allow this lustrous talent to dim. We distort responsibility, confusing it with blame. “Don’t look at me, I didn’t do it!” Response ability is not reaction, which is primitive and knee-jerk. A person with the talent to respond holds back from fixing other people’s problems; she is always, however, highly attuned to her own.
The ability to respond means you communicate as an equal with anyone, based on your unique perspective and knowledge of the job. An HR professional and a structural engineer, for example, could respond brilliantly to one another on the topic of stress. A stock clerk would be able to share his experience of calming an irate customer who might otherwise have sued. Imagine your bottom line rising while you create the space for such dialogues.
2. Curiosity. As energy-conserving beings, we tend not to puzzle things out if they’re working reasonably well. Only when the hard drive crashes or our reserved parking spot is taken do we ask questions like, “What the . . . who the . . . ?” without actually expecting a reply.
The capacity for wonder slipped underground early for most of us, but it’s still there, bubbling happily, waiting for a time when we’ll get real answers. Meanwhile, we’re perfectly free to create an environment where questions are encouraged, regardless of whether our workspace is the corner office or halfway down the conveyor belt.
What if we were to . . .
I wonder why no one has never thought of . . .
A responsible leader poses these ever-open questions often. He posts them in obtrusive places like staff rooms, board rooms and online chatrooms, and makes sure there is a safe place for answers to arrive.
3. Capacity. The third indispensable talent has already made its presence known twice in this article. Creating a safe space for dialogue; the capacity for wonder. The technical definition of capacity is volume, or how much a vessel can safely store. The word comes from Latin, capax, which means spacious, able, roomy, fit. It’s a state of emptiness we can count on.
Which may explain why we see so little capacity in the workplace. We are all stuffed to the brim with opinions, business theories, biases, wounded feelings, RSS feeds, Facebook and Twitter updates, text messages, emails, and way too many meetings. As vessels, if we haven’t cracked already, we fear we’re going to.
Here is a simple truth to help you restore your inner spaciousness. No one speaks on behalf of all investors, all customers or any group in its entirety. Even if they’re speaking it loudly and in your face, they don’t actually have everyone behind them. Give yourself the space to remember that.
On a more practical note, use white space in your emails: white space after the greeting, white space between paragraphs and before your sign-off. This small practice of capacity relaxes your readers and increases their ability to absorb what you’re saying. You ease the world a little.
4. Audacity. If you’ve imagined yourself practicing the suggestions mentioned so far, this fourth talent won’t seem so shocking. Audacity, like the other talents, has become tarnished; we associate it with people speaking out of turn. “How dare you?”
Well, the thing is, leaders do dare. Quintessential leaders not only celebrate audacity in people around them, they rely on it. The Latin root of this talent, audax, includes bold, courageous, to listen, to hear. It’s related to audience.
Sometimes you’ll hear things you’d rather not have heard. You’ll witness a behavior that doesn’t feel right. Audacity is the talent of honoring whatever comes into your sensory orbit and doing something about it. Someone, somewhere turned away from this inborn talent, and is now complicit in nine million recalls.
5. Authority. This fifth and final talent is the one we cultivate by practicing the first four. Authority is belief in your own authenticity. To be authentic means to own your words and your actions, and be willing to say, “I don’t know”. Sourced from the Latin word for Self, authority shows us what we’re capable of, one exhilarating step at a time. There’s no need to fear authority, never has been, not when we’re born with so much talent—and so much capacity to lead.
ACTION: Encourage the five talents in everyone and watch your business flourish!
About the author:
Elaine Stirling is an author of fiction and nonfiction, teacher and communication consultant. Her clients include international banks, nonprofit agencies, hospitals and top-tier business schools. She attended the University of Toronto and Laurentian University where she received her BA in Political Science, International Relations. Website: http://www.elainestirling.com/index.htm