The Importance, the Absence and the Tragedy of Talent

The Importance, the Absence and the Tragedy of Talent

In the past, employers were willing to hire those who had modest skills and train them to perform a job. Today, in the face of unprecedented marketplace competition, they will only employ individuals who have all of the skills to do a job and both the state-of-the-art knowledge and the determination required to use those skills effectively on-the-job.

In the past, employers were happy to hire qualified workers to fill their open positions and accepted that only a few would exceed their expectations, most would meet them, and the rest would need remediation and support. Today, as they battle with foreign competitors, they will only employ the truly accomplished to do a job, and they expect superior performance from them and from their first day of work.

Only a person of talent can measure up to such a standard. They alone satisfy one or both of the two criteria employers use to identify a worker they are willing to hire:
• They have a skill that is critical to organizational success and a track record which demonstrates their ability to use that skill effectively on-the-job.
• They perform at a superior level on-the-job which enables them to make a significant contribution and set a standard that encourages their coworkers to excel at their work, as well.

Increased demand for talent has not, however, increased employment. Even though millions of Americans are now in the job market looking for work, a large percentage of employers believe there is a shortage of talent in the workforce. While their email boxes and mailrooms are filled to overflowing with resumes, they see themselves as increasingly challenged to find, recruit and retain workers who have the critical skills and/or the commitment to superior performance necessary for organizational success in the global marketplace.

In essence, employers are convinced that only a very few people have talent and that talent is, therefore, in critically short supply. While this view is their accepted wisdom, it is actually only half right.

The truth is that every human being is born with a talent—it is an inherent attribute of the species—but, sadly, only a very small percentage of people actually work with that gift.
• They ignore their talent because they are convinced they can’t earn an acceptable standard of living with it.
• They ignore their talent because their family or friends don’t consider it a worthy occupational choice.
• They ignore their talent because, sadly, they’ve never given themselves permission to figure out what it is.

Whatever the reason, many, many American workers never introduce their talent into their career, and for that reason, there is—for the moment, at least—a real and persistent shortage of that resource. And, that is the tragedy of talent. It is the only inexhaustible source of both organizational and individual success, and we aren’t putting it to work.

Thanks for reading,

Note: The above post was drawn in part from my new book, The Career Activist Republic. To read more, get the book at, in many bookstores and on

1 Comment