5 Clues to Top Talent

On the Monday morning blog this week we talked about places in organizations where coaching can be of value, one of which was coaching top talent. On the Wednesday Leadership Tip of the Week we discussed the value of coaching top talent and gave some practical suggestions for you to engage top talent in your organization.

Then came a couple of emails: ”So Scott, How do I recognize top talent in my organization?” and “I have a high performing team, so it is hard to know if there is a top talent or two."


Good questions. Are there clues to discerning top talent? I did some reflecting on my own and dug into to some of the literature and here is what I found:

5 Clues You Are Working With Top Talent

1. Yearning - According to the Gallup Organization, top talent is drawn to the work. There is a deep desire that the work being done really matters. This was evident as I read Walter Isaacson's biography on Steve Jobs. Steve had a yearning for excellence in the experience his customers would get when they used his devices.

2. Passion - Top talent has a powerful and compelling love for the work. There is just a sense of enthusiasm that these folks have for what they do. There is even a sense that if you did not pay them, they would find a way to do the same thing.  I think we all know a teacher or a nurse who could be successful in much more lucrative careers, but they choose to educate or care for others because of a passion for the work.

3. Love for Tasks and Relationships - Leadership is a constant balance between the task and the relationship. Top talent has a love for both the process and the people. They are comfortable both in the strategic and the personal realm. There is a high level of respect for both what needs done and those with whom they work to get it done. We all know people who are really good at one or the other, but it is those who balance both at high levels who we recognize as top talent.

4. Life Long Learners - People who are top talent always seem to be learning something new. They are consistently looking for a new or a better way to achieve results. Top talent seems to be trying new things all the time. They figure out what is not working as fast as they can so they can get to the best results. They seem to have a thirst and a desire for knowledge.

5. Resilient - For top talent the question is not if they will have a setback, because they understand we all do. The question is always “How will you respond” when things do not go your way? Martin Seligman, in his book Learned Optimism, brings forth the idea that Optimistic People have a positive explanatory style. They take responsibility for what they own and they do not blame themselves for what they are not responsible for. One of my favorite stories of resiliency is from the bible. Joseph was a young boy whose brothers were jealous of him. Eventually he is sold into slavery, only to become the second in command over all of Egypt. A drought comes and the brothers who sold him into slavery come to Egypt in search of food. They have a meeting with Joseph, who could have had them killed, but instead tells them, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good." Joseph was able to be resilient in overcoming his circumstances. Top talent is resilient in the face of setbacks. They have the ability to push through difficult circumstances and see the big picture.

So, how do you measure up to this list? Do you have things to work on in your own leadership? Some tough reflection here as you introspect for yourself, and I hope you can examine your leadership to help get you to a top talent level.

How does the talent measure up on your team? Are you working with top talent? If not, what could you do to develop those with potential?

[reminder]I would love to know your thoughts on top talent. What do you see as clues that you are working with top talent that may differ from my list here? Leave a comment below. [/reminder]