Talent is not enough

John Wooden said, “Judge yourself not by what you have achieved but by what you should have achieved with the talent at your disposal”. He was a clever man.

Those who really want to make the most of their talent also have a desire to improve and a work ethic that combine to make them even better.

They’re open to learning, changing and never see their talent as the finished article.

Reading time: 5 minutes

What goes on

Many top performers will tell you that they weren’t the most talented. Many talented people don’t fulfill their potential for a whole variety of reasons such as lack of ambition, distractions, lack of confidence, poor support around them or lack of opportunity.

Those who do reach their potential think and do things that help them to grow and get better. They work hard, persevere, learn, make good choices about who to have around them and mix with. They use goals effectively and value feedback that will help them improve.

Their attitude towards their talent is a really helpful one for their performance.

Five performance truths

The brutal reality of high performance life – this is what you need to know

  1. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” . This neat quote from Tim Notke says coasting isn’t an option. Of course you’ll need time when you rest and recover, though if you’re going to make the most of your talent you’re going to have to work hard.
  2. Your attitude towards your talent will make a big difference. Think of your talent as just a starting point – the cards you’re dealt with – but don’t rely on that alone. If you’re a fast runner or good at maths that’s great. But it’s just a start.
  3. If there’s a talent development programme and you’re not invited on it because you’re too small, too big or your face doesn’t fit, then put your own programme together. If you’re not invited because you have nothing to offer then maybe you’d better get a role somewhere else.
  4. Improvement is going to mean mistakes and failure along the way so making the most of your talent is going to need self belief and confidence to deal with knockbacks. People around you are going to make a difference so choose your friends, team mates and supporters carefully. Where you can’t choose them, choose who you pay attention to as coaches, role models and advisers.
  5. High performance isn’t for everyone. To fulfill your potential and make the most of your talent you’re going to need to be many things including highly motivated. Finding the right purpose, arena and environment in which you can perform and grow will be essential.

Three things to do

  1. Stretch yourself to try new things and take on difficult or challenging tasks. Adopt what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. Look for opportunities to test yourself and keep pushing yourself to see how far you can go.
  2. Work hard at those things that will make a difference. Work hard at the basics of what you do, work hard at learning and gathering feedback, work hard at getting better.
  3. Think about how your talent adds to the talents of those around you. Use their talents to help you grow and perform and vice versa. That’s also a very teamy thing to do which is good if you’re in a team.



Gary’s story

Gary wasn’t the most talented footballer, but he did have a desire to get the absolute maximum out of himself. He had an ability to push himself, a brother who was talented too and they pushed each other. Through “hard work” and what he called a “tactical intelligence on the pitch” (his two talents) he became both a very, very successful footballer and successful in his career once he’d retired.

His tactical intelligence enabled him to make the most of the talent around him and to help team mates make the most of their talent too. He had a team mate called David whose talent was kicking a ball in a particular way. David also made the most of his talent through hard work, discipline and practice and has also had a successful off the pitch career too.

Both of them have also been very good at tapping into and feeding off the advisers, coaches, family and friends who have supported them. They both experienced some highs and lows, especially David, but they have been able to remain confident through self belief, belief of others in them and a growing track record of both success and dealing with adversity to build resilience.