As a manager of people, I often think about what my peeps are passionate about, what they’re good at and what they can learn. My thinking on this often ends up with me trying to discern what the difference is between a gift, a talent and a skill. We managers use these words interchangeably, but I genuinely believe these are different things. And consequently, as a manager, it’s important to understand which is which in your peeps. Why? Because it determines how you help them grow.
Gifts are something you are just born with
These are things that you are inexplicably good at. Gifts come naturally. They are something you don’t even think about doing, you just do it and you do it well. Often times people marvel at your gifts because they don’t have the same gift. To them, it’s mind boggling how you can just do this thing you do with such ease.
If you have someone who is in a role where they don’t get to use or at least share their gifts, you aren’t getting the most out of them and they aren’t giving everything they’ve got. I think it’s a manager’s role to help their people discover their gifts, use them, share them and honour them. Here’s the tricky thing. People often don’t value their gifts because they come so easily to them. You have to point out that these gifts are unique to them. That what they do naturally doesn’t come naturally to their peers. And you have to balance their utilization of their gifts with the development of talents and skills, otherwise they might not grow in new and important ways doing what they do naturally every day. A little bit of discomfort and chaos is good for people – a little.
Talents are something you have a propensity for
You have a knack for it. With just a bit of coaching, teaching and training, you can pick it up with relative ease. You may not love it and you may not be the best at it, but it comes somewhat easily. And you do it well.
If you’ve got someone who is showing a propensity for something, give them little side projects to exercise untapped talents. Help them cultivate their talents by offering them ways to use them on smaller projects. Encourage them to learn more about it; see if they discover a new passion. If they find out that a talent is in fact a gift, you might want to see if their role can include this new talent or whether there is a better role for them (in or out of the organization) that will enable them to utilize this gift. I once worked with a guy who was a very talented designer. What we found through a little side project that he was incredibly gifted at product design. Within a year of discovering this gift, he changed roles and moved into the product design group. Had we not experimented a bit, we might not have tripped over this hidden gift.
Skills are something you develop with hard work, years of experience and training
These are things you’ve learned on the job or in life after having had to develop them to do your job or get through your life. They aren’t necessarily things you love doing or are astoundingly great at, but you can do it.
A lot of people don’t want to learn the skills that will in fact make their jobs easier, because that’s not what they are passionate about to begin with. For example, I’m in marketing. I need to use Excel to understand how my programs are faring – are they making money, are they not, are they meeting expectations, are they not? I don’t love Excel, I’m not super great at it, but it’s a means to an end. It helps me understand how I’m doing and ultimately do my job better. Over the years, I’ve gleaned a bit about Excel from my analyst friends who use it like it’s another function of their body. And it’s made my work better. So while your people may not enjoy the actual skill itself, it might be worth suggesting a day or two of training if you (and they) believe it will make their jobs easier or more efficient. This is not about developing a passion or a talent, this is about helping them do what they do better and faster.
Next time you are at work, stop and think about what you are doing. Is it a gift, a talent or a skill?
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