Talent is Overrated

It’s amazing how many excuses we tell ourselves that keep us from reaching what we desire to achieve. There seems to be an unending string of rationalizations we create in our mind that explain away our shortcomings. We aren’t quite living up to what we could be if we just had a few things go our way.

No matter where you are in life there seems to be something illusive, just over the next hill that you aren’t sure you can reach. You think maybe you can, but you aren’t sure if you have the talent or skills required to get there. You see others that are further down the road and they seem to have a few more tools in their tool belt than you. They seem to understand their niche and have well-honed habits in place that help them operate at a higher level. It’s hard to compete with that.

I struggled with this type of thinking for a good chunk of my life. When I was younger I didn’t’ think I had what the other kids around me had. There seemed to be something missing. In the classroom I was average, but my friends seemed to be above average. In sports, I was too small and too slow to keep up, so my friends passed me in sports during high school. I found it frustrating that things seemed to come easier to some of my friends than they did for me. In other ways I found comfort in it because I knew there wasn’t much expected of me. The problem is that I didn’t expect much of me either. You may have known people like me.

Life really isn’t fair. It’s strange how some people can ace their classes without studying much at all (I hated those people). Despite my average talent, I was very competitive in sports. My best friend seemed to be one step ahead of me in every sport we played. (As long as it didn’t involve water. He sank when wet, and I found a sick comfort in that) Many of my other friends seemed to have some kind of talent they were developing and working on to help define them in their careers. After high school I really struggled to find myself. I was lost for a few years trying to find some skill I could use to make a living. I didn’t seem to be good at anything that really mattered. I later found out that was not true. I was just so busy comparing myself to others that I wasn’t applying myself toward personal growth.

I have noticed that sometimes even the most talented people really never make it to the big stage of success or at least don’t stay there. High school, college and professional athletes with mega talent fail under the big lights. They seem to have the talent to succeed but are missing the confidence, or maturity to live out the script others have written for them. Some don’t have the work ethic or discipline, some don’t have that competitive edge, and others simply do foolish things to disqualify themselves from the game. Think of all the political scandals that have taken people down and ended careers of very talented people before their time. It seems like success is more than talent.

Success is a tricky word. I don’t have the same thoughts on this word as I used to. When I was younger I used to equate success with either money, power or fame or some combination of the three. There were those talented people that had achieved a level of popularity, income or power that separated themselves from the rest of the ordinary folks. They were the ones that were fortunate enough to have received an extra portion of talent so they were entitled to a little more than the rest of us. They used their talents and were rewarded for it.

I see things a bit differently now. When I look at the most successful people that I know, they seem to shine for other reasons. Most of them are definitely talented in their own ways but it is not the talent that stands out as the reason for their success. They seem to have something that not even most super talented people have. I discovered that you really don’t need to have much natural talent at all to be successful, but you do need a few other foundational qualities to support the talent you do have.

Work Ethic
You don’t have to have talent to have great work ethic. You can be very untalented and your work ethic will make you stand out from most of your peers. People who have a great work ethic sometimes catch up and pass those with more natural talent (tortoise and the hair). The nice thing about work ethic is that you can apply that quality and it becomes a super tool that helps every part of life.

Our personal life and our work life both come with problems. Life is hard, and sometimes it sucks! People let us down, we make mistakes. Sometimes things we work hard to build get destroyed and we have to start all over again. A person with a strong work ethic will bounce back much faster than a more talented person with less work ethic.

People with a strong work ethic are always working toward something. They are always looking forward to what they need to achieve, not looking backwards at what they already have achieved. People who look backward at their accomplishments and pat themselves on the back tend to quit and coast and develop a sense of entitlement.

If you want to be in high demand in the marketplace, be worth more to your employer than what you are being paid. Then as you become more successful and make more money, continue to be worth more than your wage. Any time your wage catches up to your market value, you need to kick it into another gear or you may soon be replaced. There are always cheaper more talented people, but not necessarily people with great work ethics. Pretty simple but some people never get this.

Truth Tellers
A solid skillset does not make a person more trustworthy. Honest words can come out of anyone’s mouth at any talent level. We can decide to wrap ourselves around the pillar of truth, or we can wrap the truth around the pillar of us. It just takes a commitment to discovering, understanding and embracing the truth independent of our opinions. When we do that, our words will reflect reality.

An honest answer is the ultimate compliment to someone. It says, “I respect you enough to tell you what is really going on, and it’s not my place to tell you otherwise” To be trusted is a virtue that is far greater than any talent. It is available and free to embrace by all who choose it.

Truth Finders
Truth is not the same as knowledge. There is a lot of information out there that is not true. Not only is it important that we continue growing and learning more as we go, we also need to be discerning what is true from what is not true. We need to discover what ways work better than other ways. If you are not sure of the best way to do something, keep looking, ask someone who has been there. Truth is to be discovered, not determined. Are you looking for the truth or looking to be right?

Finding truth always begins with you. I have met people who are very honest with others but struggle with telling themselves the truth. Their impact on others is limited because of this. They tend to allow themselves to be deceived by believing what others think of them or comparing themselves to everyone around them. They make excuses and rationalize decisions to justify their actions. Others are very honest with themselves and can more easily come to grips with their own shortcomings. This can come when our pride is stripped and we learn our place among others. The downside is that they tend to expect others to have the same introspective abilities, leading to stepping on peoples toes all in the name of transparency. I have been on both ends of this spectrum. It took me a long time to believe truth even exists, and it took even longer to embrace truth.

Growth Minded
What’s the difference between a 35 year old athlete and a 50 year old leader? One hasn’t hit their peak yet.

People with growth mindsets come in all sizes, shapes, ages and abilities. The one thing that they all have in common is that they push forward every day to increase their knowledge and effectiveness. I believe sometimes people with less talent have an easier time developing strong growth mindsets because they didn’t have all the extra talent to lean on earlier in life.

“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Anyone can be a source of encouragement. A kind work can go a long way and doesn’t require any special abilities to deliver. The impact words can have on an individual that has been longing to hear words of affirmation is unlimited. You don’t have to write for Hallmark to put a smile on someone’s face.

Having an encouraging heart doesn’t come easily or naturally for most people. It takes a change of perspective in our own heart first. It does not require talent whatsoever. It just requires you to look around and appreciate what we have and what we have been given. “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Being an encourager requires taking our eyes off of yourself and focusing on what others need to hear in order to grow. People need encouragement like a plant needs water or Donald Trump needs attention. If you are a grump, negative complainer with a sense of entitlement and a right to gripe, you will indeed miss out on this opportunity.

A person who taps into the ability to encourage others, thwarts himself into another stratosphere of game changers. This may be the most underused resource in the history of everything and everyone can do it.

Once when I was a kid I told my grandpa I was going to swim across Lake Odessa. He said something that stuck with me. “Make sure you set your sights on the other side of the lake. If you set your sights most of the way, and make it, you will drown.”  Most people know how to quit. We don’t finish most of the things that we start. We don’t finish our marriages. We don’t finish college. The dropout rate for high school is growing every year. We can’t seem to keep our weight under control. And, most of us can’t seem to figure out the one or two most important things to finish each day before the sun goes down.

Boats have anchors to commit them to a specific location. The anchor is heavy enough and deep enough to be stronger than the elements working to move the boat. Without an anchor, even with the best intentions, there is nothing to keep the wind and the waves from blowing you away from where you want to be. When you do drift away from your desired location, you likely won’t even know you have moved. The change is subtle.

Unfortunately many people go through life without any type of anchor. Sometimes they intentionally live without an anchor so they don’t get too tied down or stuck in a place they don’t want to be.  In the process, they end up in other places they never intended to go, with people they didn’t intend to be around, doing things they didn’t intend to do. They become someone they didn’t intend to be wondering how they got there. The key word is intend. No one can ever live a life of intentionality without understanding the value of commitment.

You already have everything you need to impact the world.

Are You Connected?

Need for connection

In the book How People Grow, Dr. Henry Cloud writes “People’s most basic need in life is relationship. People connected to other people thrive and grow, and those not connected wither and die. It’s a medical fact, for example, that from infancy to old age, health depends on the amount of social connection we have.”  He goes on to say “Virtually every emotional and psychological problem, from addictions to depression, has alienation or emotional isolation at its core or close to it. Recovery from these problems always involves helping people to get more connected with each other at deeper and healthier levels than they are.”

I believe that true happiness absolutely requires and depends on honest trustworthy personal relationships. In the work place this plays out in the need for trustworthy professional connections. The flip side of this would be that without deep relationships happiness or success cannot exist.  I think people resist getting close to others because they don’t think they need others as much as they really do.  At the center of this resistance is usually a lack of trust fed by fear.  As we grow up our ability to trust others usually is greatly affected by the environment we have spent the most time in.  If our experience is that people generally break their promises and let you down, we will be more cautious when considering letting someone into our personal circle.  We’ve been conditioned to disconnect.


Sometimes fear is a major cause for us to fail to connect with people.  We are afraid of what other people think of us and sometimes terrified of being rejected.  It’s much easier to be disconnected than to try to connect and face rejection. Like Tom Hanks character in Castaway and Matt Damon’s in The Martian, people who cannot trust and fear rejection or intimacy also have to figure out how to maintain their physical and mental health apart from others.

Finding great people

I was at a holiday gathering a while back and one of my relatives was asked where her boyfriend was.  She replied that they broke up, it was not working out.  She then asked if anyone had any suggestions to where she can go to find a “good man”.  She says that all the guys she has been involved with turn out to be duds.  This isn’t an uncommon thought.  I’ll bet there are several million people in our country that feel the same way about finding a soul mate.  There just don’t seem to be any decent ones out there.

Layers of separation

I was with my daughter the other day and a song came on the radio that she was singing to.  I asked her who was singing it.  She said, “are you kidding me?, you really don’t know who this is? Everyone knows this song.” It seems I live in a different world than she does.  What is so common in her world, is foreign to me. I was so close but so far away.

I think socially there are many different cultural layers all overlapping each other with each group being somewhat isolated from the other layers while sharing the same space.  It really is bizarre how these cultural layers can be literally standing in the same place, and like someone who doesn’t like their food to touch, seem to keep from mixing.  That explains why my relative feels so far away from finding a decent guy, and why I was clueless to apparently one of the most popular songs on earth. Sometimes the invisible walls are the thickest.

We are what we hang with

When I was in my early twenties, I was surrounded by many friends and like me, most of them didn’t have any kind of vision for their lives.  We were a crowd that put lots of focus on the here and now, living for the moment.  Most of us were running away from our past in some way. We spent quite a bit of time together and had many social interactions but these friendships were shallow at best.  Friendships (girls and guys) seemed to be temporary and centered around where the next party is.  I had many friends, but meaningful connection was a different story.

The truth is, that I was exactly like the people closest to me, the ones I spent the most time with.  Someone said we are the sum total of our five closest people.  This was certainly true for me. I had a many friends but didn’t really connect with any of them, at least not with any depth. I would go out on the town, have lots of fun, meet more interesting fun people, then go back to my apartment and bask in my loneliness and addictions. There were people all around, but I was all alone. My friends were not interested in connecting with me as a person or helping me grow nor was I with them. We didn’t know how, and were too immature to care or know what it was that we were needing.  We all had our own voids to figure out how to fill.

Where are you looking?

What I know now, that I did not know the first half of my life, is that there are many healthy, happy, connected people out there if you wish to seek them out and find out where they hang.  I am not suggesting that all healthy and happy people are separate from everyone else and part of an exclusive club.  They are all over.  They come in every color and every size.  They are in the stores you shop, walking down the street, eating in the same restaurants that you eat.  You may not recognize them if you don’t know what to look for. If you want to find a bunny, don’t look in a fox hole.

Something missing

Have you ever felt like there was something missing in your life, but you don’t know what it is?  I have asked many people this question in my life and apart from a couple of people I suspect were not honest, everyone has said yes.  Most of the time when I engage in conversation with people about this, it strikes a chord and often leads to a very constructive and insightful conversation.  It seems we all have a void that needs to be filled.

“As people are cut off from others and their souls are starved for connectedness, the need for love turns into an insatiable hunger for something. It can be a substance, sex, food, shopping, or gambling, but these never satisfy, because the real need is the connectedness to God and others, and to God through others.” Henry Cloud – How People Change.


We were created to experience connectedness vertically with our creator and horizontally with people.  It is not until we have connectedness with God that we can truly connect with others on the level we were created for. We also cannot stay connected with God without being connected to other people.  It is through other people who we are supported and upheld. It is other people who push us to grow and to push our limits to reach higher levels. It is through other people that God grows each person.  He sends people to teach you, encourage you, challenge you, discipline you, provide support, advice and direction. This doesn’t happen if you are not connected to people who share these values. We are what we hang with.

Grace is the glue

It is God that gives us the passion and the commitment to extend to others the kind of grace that God extended to us through Jesus Christ.  He forgave us our sins so that we could experience connectedness with him.  Connectedness cannot happen without grace to bridge the gap. Grace is the glue that holds ALL relationships together. You cannot give away what you do not have. Without grace, we all disconnect and go our separate ways. Are you connected?


Don’t Be So Bossy!


The Boss

“First of all, I will say I hate the word “boss”.  At least when it is applied to me.  I don’t want to be a boss, I try very hard not to be a boss, look like a boss or sound like a boss.  I have had bosses before and it was not very fun.  They were very bossy.

Back in the day the workplace looked a little different than it does now.  The Boss model was everywhere.  The chain of command was very important. Having control, and being “in charge” of your people was the primary responsibility of a person in management.  Make the boss happy and you are “doing your job”.  This is the boss model.

So what is a Boss?

  • A boss is someone who believes their responsibility is to “get” people to behave or work in a way that makes the boss or company successful.
  • A Boss believes they are on a higher plain than the people they work for. They are more important and have a sense of entitlement that others are not subject to.
  • A Boss relies on their title to give them credibility.  They need to remind people who is “in charge”.  Titles are like a badge of honor.
  • A Boss is much more likely to use anger, intimidation and manipulation to get the results that they are looking for.
  • A Boss is more interested in looking good to their boss than to their subordinates. They are quick to point out how much they have accomplished or how valuable they are to the company.
  • A Boss uses their power and authority to be served. They often arrange their job priorities and task to work around their own personal life. That is the whole benefit to being the boss.
  • A Boss takes credit for success, and casts blame for failures.
  • A Boss has a history (or will have) of broken employee relationships in their wake, These are relationships that didn’t need to end the way they did if they would have had better relational skills.
  • A Boss is in search of more power and authority and will step on others if necessary to get it.
  • A Boss manages according to what feels “natural”.  They do what their parents did.  They do what their previous Bosses did.
  • Some Bosses don’t mean any intentional harm, they just don’t know any other way.

How do Bosses maintain control?

  • Carrots – Bosses rely on bribing, using flattery or talking people into things in order to get them to do something for them.  When a boss chases their employees away they have to resort to this to get their remaining employees to pitch in and take on extra work. Incentives are good, but not when they replace true appreciation.
  • Sticks – Bosses need a club.  This would be a way to implement discomfort in order to redirect behavior. Sometimes this is yelling, anger, passive aggression, write ups, guilt, self-pity, anything that will make someone behave in a manor you want.
  • Social bonding – Some managers with boss-like tendencies (BLT’s) will use words strategically to win over their subordinates.  They give an impression of connecting with people, when really they are just using social bonding to gain a false sense of favor.  Some managers with BLT’s try to become besties with people right off the bat.
  • Dog-house management – This is when, at first,  you are on the right side of the manager, they seem to really like you, all seems well, until you let your guard down and cross them somehow. A manipulative boss can change their tune in a split second and toss your butt in the dog-house quickly.
  • Controlling with Extremes – Bouncing back and forth between extremes is a form of dog-house management.  Some Dog-house managers may allow you to make it up to them and get out of the dog-house by proving yourself to them by kissing up, or extra effort.  Sometimes a sincere apology is enough.  When they really need something they may let you out, and pretend nothing was wrong.  You may come and go in and out of the dog-house over time. This is their way at keeping control of you. The message they make is very clear, “I am the boss, and if you don’t want to be in the dog-house, don’t cross me!”
  • Expendable People – Some dog-house managers have a perspective that people become corrupt or lose their mojo and are not recoverable.  When an employee crosses them, they can no longer trust them and have no use for them.  They are very quick to fire and toss on the scrap heap. This type of dog-house management leaves no room for second chances or working out problems constructively.
  • They take things personally – Bosses can be quick to be hurt or offended.  They can take an under achieving employees actions personally.  They have the perspective of “If you aren’t going to do anything for me, I am not doing anything for you”.  If you watch Shark Tank, you may have heard Mr. Wonderful say “Your dead to me!”  when he gets his feelings hurt. I love that show!
  • My way or the highway! – Bosses have to put up a big front so everyone knows who is in charge. Everything is on their terms. They also need to know that there is little margin for error.  Donald Trump – “Your Fired!”.
    They have to overcompensate for poor relational skills.
  • It’s your job! – Bosses are not quick to hand out compliments for people just doing their job.  I have heard managers say things to me similar to “I’m not going to hold their hand and clap for them for simply doing what is expected of them”.  There is some truth to this but people who focus on this tend to have trouble connecting with their people.
  • I am not here to be your friend! – Bosses use this excuse for not wanting or needing to connect with people.  In their eyes trust comes from outward behavior and not inward connection.

To be sure, people who have multiple BLT’s have an uphill battle ahead of them.  Some of these tactics can have an appearance of success in the short term, but lack the interpersonal value to build the kind of relational resume needed for long term and large scale success.

The Servant Leader

So what is a Servant Leader?

  • A Servant Leader believes they are on the same plain as everyone else.  They believe they have a responsibility to serve the people that work under their care.
  • A Servant Leader doesn’t need authority or a tile to gain influence.  Their influence comes from their character and credibility.  Consider Andy Taylor vs. Barney Fife (the Andy Griffith show). Barney points to his badge and gun to gain respect from others.  Andy doesn’t even wear a gun. People listen to him.  A Servant Leader has all the authority they need, but seldom needs to use it.
  • A Servant Leader doesn’t try to change people from the outside in (behavior).  They do not try to “get” people to do something. They get people to “want” to do something.  They work from the inside out by connecting.
  • A Servant Leader takes responsibility for their blunders and the teams blunders.  They resists the urge to blame others.
  • A Servant Leader is more interested in upholding a reputation of good character and integrity than looking impressive or pointing to their success to determine their value. They are transparent and approachable.
  • A Servant Leader doesn’t use flattery or false humility to put on a mask.  They are less interested in telling people what they want to hear and more interested in telling people what they need to hear in order to grow.
  • A Servant Leader understands that you have to earn the right to be heard.  “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I know this is very over-used, but it is so true.
  • When a Servant Leader see’s abberant or irresponsible behavior they don’t automatically jump to discipline, criticism or removal.  They seek out the reason for the behavior.  They try to connect with the person to discover the cause rather than just addressing the symtom or behavior. They save many relationships and divert costly bad turnover in doing so.
  • A Servant Leader resists the urge to manage according to what feels natural and seeks out proven methods.  They look outside the box to learn what the great leaders have done. Then they do that.

So how does a Servant Leader maintain control?

  • They don’t.  Servant Leaders are not in control.  Each person is fully in control of their own choices and actions.  Unless you live in a communist country, you have the right to work for who you want to work for.  We need to remember that our employees choose to work with us, and have needs to be met in order for them to want to continue to work with us.  They can leave any time.
  • Outcomes – Servant Leaders have a much greater effect on outcomes than bosses because they influence the people around them to own their actions. Influence always trumps control.
  • Influence – Servant Leaders understand a few basic principles about the nature of all people.

1. People need to know that they are appreciated. They need to know that their ideas and opinions matter.

2. They need to know exactly what is expected of them.  They need someone to take the time and help prepare them for what they need in order to be successful.

3. They need to feel needed, and that their hard work matters and makes a difference.  People will run through walls for you if they know it counts for something bigger than the task.

Trust – Servant Leaders understand that their first responsibility is to show people that they can be trusted.  Until you gain the trust of your crew you will have very little influence on their lives.

  • Trust means not making promises they don’t intend to keep
  • Trust comes when your co-workers know that you have their best interest in mind, and you are not going to toss them onto the trash heap.
  • Trust comes from doing the right thing, in the right manor, for the right reasons.
  • Trust comes from giving someone opportunity to show their trustworthiness.
  • Servant Leaders expect the best out of people.  Many Bosses expect their employees to fall to the ground like a turkey, Leaders expect them to fly like an eagle.  They set the bar high and believe in them.
  • Servant Leaders treat people with respect, even when they disappoint. “Love the sinner, hate the sin”, they keep the value of the sinner separate from the value of the sin. They toss out the bathwater without losing the baby.

Which path?

Success or failure is largely decided by the type of leader you are.  These principles are real and true and are absolute.  The path has already been written for both types.  It’s up to us to determine if we are going to take the path of least immediate resistance that requires less change with less results, or the path that requires personal growth and leads to deeper connections and a network of trusted people in your corner which is needed for long term or large scale success.

I’ll bet you have some Boss-like qualities at times and some Servant Leadership qualities. I know I do. Chances are any success you’ve had comes from the areas you exemplify Servant Leader qualities.  Many of the failures you’ve had relationally, probably came from the Boss in you coming out.  Being a “Boss” comes more natural to most, but holds us back and keeps us from being all we can be as a leader.  It takes time, effort, and most of all self-sacrifice to get past being a Boss to become a true Servant Leader. Be prepared, there may be some self-discovery needed before you can begin to make the transition.

Something is wrong

If you are in a leadership role and you always seem to be spinning your tires, not getting anywhere, if people always end up letting you down, and you find yourself burning out, or starting over frequently, you need to know, that’s how it is suppose to be!  Ya, I said that. Just like when your knee bends in a way it was not intended to bend, it hurts!  It means you are doing something wrong, following the wrong recipe. Pain and stress are put in place to tell us when something is wrong to force us to put guardrails in place, change directions or get help. It means you have some obstacles that need to be removed, or wounds that need to be healed.  You may need someone skilled to operate on your heart and help you see what is most important and to help you find your purpose, and learn your giftedness.

I believe we all make life much more difficult than we need to sometimes.  We have Self Imposed Foolish Tendencies (SIFTs) that hold us back and keep us from progressing.  We need to put ourselves under a coach or mentor be “SIFTed” to remove these obstacles, then be open to change.

Hebrews 12:1 says ” Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,”

  1. People are watching and learning from you.
  2. You have SIFTs that you need to purge before you can finish the race.
  3. You need to persevere so that you can lead the way for your followers.
  4. There is a race marked out for you that you need to find, and finish.

Things have changed over the years.  In this post-modern culture, people are much more experiencial minded.  The younger generations are more relational and respond to connectedness in deeper ways than the old days. They are looking for something to be a part of, something that they can feel good about. They don’t respond the same to authority as they did when I was a kid.  This means we need to change and adjust to meet the needs of our people if we want them to take part in our mission. When we keep trying to change them, or live according to past generations, we set ourselves and all our followers up to fail.

People need people

When we are in a position of leadership we have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to make a difference in peoples work experience and lives.  Every successful person can look back and see a person or two that came along side them and changed their entire perspective on what it mean to be successful.  We all need someone to show us the way, to help us get past our own Self Induced Foolish Tendencies.  We need someone who believes in us and is willing to have your back and push toward our personal best.

The Pareto Principle says that 20% of the leaders experience 80% of the success.  I promise they don’t do it by being “bossy”.