Is talent the root of success at work?

May 28, 2024

4 mins

Is talent the root of success at work?

There’s no doubt that some people are born with talent. Take Mozart, who had perfect pitch at three years old and started composing at six. There are plenty of famously successful people who were gifted with natural talent, which begs the question: is there a link between talent and success in the professional world of today? Are some people destined to succeed more than others?

It’s not uncommon for talent and vocation to intersect. Certain people seem primed to succeed in a given field based solely on their inborn qualities. For instance, many artists and athletes like Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, basketball player Michael Jordan, and the one and only, Adele. Even in our everyday lives, it’s not uncommon to encounter rare talent in the workplace, but are these employees truly more talented than others? What specific skills do they have, and do they genuinely contribute to their success at work?

Life isn’t always fair…

Talent is defined as a particular aptitude, remarkable gift, or natural skill. It goes beyond things like technical proficiency, autonomy, or a sense of responsibility. True talent denotes a unique potential to express oneself, which is neither entirely innate nor entirely learned. Professionally, this often means someone can perform a task much better than the average person, without as much training. However, there’s still no logical or scientific explanation as to why some people have natural affinities for certain things while others do not. Still, there are a few things that seem to help talented people get a leg up.

The expression of talent depends on several factors including genetics, socio-cultural and socio-economic context, and life experiences. In other words, a set of criteria that is not purely random, inexplicable, or solely self-determined. “We tend to believe that performance is individual, but even if some people have talent, the ability to express it depends on many factors,” says Albert Moukheiber, a neuroscientist, clinical psychologist, and author. In other words, a person can possess a talent without it being of any use to them if they’re not put in a position to use it, particularly professionally.

It’s an aspect often overshadowed by “naturalness bias,” the tendency to prefer people who have skills naturally, rather than those who have worked hard to attain them. “Talent is closely linked to the concept of individual meritocracy. It’s easier to say that we succeed thanks to ourselves and because of our skills, rather than questioning the entire social and political system,” Moukheiber points out.

The search for true talent

In the world of work, talent is linked to performance and recognition. “There are two ways to consider talent in Human Resources,” explains HR consultant Roseline Laloupe. “You can consider everyone as potential talent as long as they possess certain skills, behavioral traits, and a wealth of knowledge. Alternatively, talent can be seen as a rare and sought-after thing in the market.” In the latter case, talent might be disarming charisma, boundless creativity, or spectacular teaching. This is a story that one worker knows well. Early in her career, Marine, who works in transportation, was seen as a rare gem and a prized find by recruiters. “People often tell me that I stand out because I’m super organized, I bring positive energy, and I naturally do things that others don’t think of.”

This recognition has led to her being sought after within her department. “Everyone loves my initiative and ideas. They are even happier because they don’t have to do anything, but I like being proactive.” By being a desirable employee, Marine has more opportunities to develop her potential than her coworkers. In a company setting, this ability gets the ball rolling and generates bigger profits. In the search for candidates with rare and sought-after skills, recruiters want to develop these candidates’ talents, that is, to use them to be more profitable (even if it means stretching them too thin), and then to keep them within the company.

“The professional world is based on competition,” Moukheiber explains. “We want to say that we have the best employees.” In this regard, it’s no secret that these abilities are commodities that can be exploited and monetized in the job market. People labeled as the most talented are more likely to have access to raises, promotions, and other opportunities.

How to showcase your skills

Not everyone can be a Beethoven, Tiger Woods, or Taylor Swift, but if you have the right environment and time to devote to developing your potential, it’s possible to express and foster your talent at work.

Tip #1: Introspection

Before developing a skill, it’s crucial to know exactly what to focus on and avoid spreading yourself too thin. Don’t dive into a field just because it’s popular at the moment, instead, focus on yourself. “It’s good to begin with introspection. Where do you excel? What’s your wheelhouse? It should be a personal endeavor,” suggests Laloupe. She also recommends revisiting childhood memories. “Childhood reveals many things, and as a kid, there were things that we naturally did well.” Were you good at drama when you were eight years old? It might be worth testing your comfort on stage and exploring different modes of expression.

Tip #2: Develop your skills

Once you’ve identified a skill that suits you, it’s time to work on it. You can take training courses or participate in professional or personal activities that will help you hone this skill. “Some people also turn to a coach to develop their soft skills. For example, a charismatic person may want coaching to maintain their ability and become even more talented in that area,” says Laloupe. As a creative HR specialist, she practices what she preaches by designing original content on social media daily and choosing projects that require innovation.

Tip #3: Self-promote

To advance your career, your peers need to recognize your skills. “Being talented is good, but you also need to show others you possess a rare skill,” advises Laloupe. Whether featuring your skills on LinkedIn, Instagram, or your website, using online tools allows you to communicate your skills and highlight your hard-earned results. Take the time to build your brand and showcase your achievements by creating engaging content.

“Whether you’re a job candidate or currently employed, you should ask yourself three questions,” says Laloupe. “What are my talents? How can I develop them? How can I showcase them?” If you don’t think you have a particular skill in which you excel, don’t panic. There’s no race to become the next Mozart, and you have plenty of time to find where your talent lies.

Translation by Lorraine Posthuma

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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