So here is my question for the many organizations that have an unhealthy fascination with improving the weaknesses of their talent: How was Michael Jordan in baseball?.. Exactly!
I started my career as a talent agent. Yes, a talent agent in the entertainment industry. I even went to the top school in the field, Columbia College Chicago, to study under some of the luminaries. Even though I transitioned to the technology industry half way through my career, I picked up a lot of wisdom from several of my mentors/teachers including Irwin H. Steinberg (founder of Mercury Records and CEO of then 2nd largest record label in the world – Polygram) and Joey Edmonds (talent agent who discovered grew some of the most admired comedians). I apply their teachings to my work every day: the greater the strength of an individual’s talent, the more likely he/she has a big weakness lurking somewhere – that is the price you pay for genius. If someone is phenomenal at getting tens of thousands of people to shell out $100s to see them for couple of hours in a stadium, it is likely they have several other areas where they perform poorly. As a talent manager, your job is to find those weaknesses and work with or even neutralize them. Now it is also true that if someone is mediocre at everything, they are less likely to have these large weaknesses… but I don’t care to work with people like this, since life is short and I want to learn from people around me every day.
You see, talent is talent. It does not matter if you are making hundreds of thousands of people scream your name as you sing or if you have the same number of people look at you as the creator of the most useful application they have on their smartphones. Great data scientists, product managers, marketers, and software developers are a lot like great musicians, comedians, dancers, and sculptors.
From a business founder or executive point of view, it is also a much better investment strategy in our people. Peter Druker, the man who coined the term “knowledge worker”, developed the management by objectives methodology, and is the author of 30+ management and economics books said: “It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity.”
Dealing with weaknesses is not a people development problem, but rather an operational problem. It is my job, as a chief of staff, to figure out who fits where in the grand company talent matrix and to work with my team on neutralizing the weaknesses of those that may hurt us. We either put workflows, processes, and tools in place and/or find additions to our teams who are geniuses in the areas where we have weaknesses. This is something you do from day one, and this job never stops. So much so, that at some point it becomes a separate leadership role.
Bottom line: talent comes with a price – gladly pay it, because it likely has the highest return on your investment. And please, for the sake of sanity (and talent retention), stop getting into this girlfriend/boyfriend syndrome of trying to “fix” someone.
Photo credit: Philip Kromer