Balancing Natural Talent and Developing Skills, and Knowing the Difference

By Curtis R. Sprouse

June 2015

The world is becoming more dynamic and more challenging. There will be a greater need to develop skills and one’s ability to perform in changing environments. Is success driven by talent, or developed skills? This is question that has been debated for as long as there has been an interest in measuring outcomes, whether it is sport, art, music, business, or quality of relationships.

Our work with hundreds of executives has shown that even the very best do not often know when their application of behaviors is disrupting their ability to perform. More important is that many leaders have limited insight into how the lack of behavioral development is compromising their team’s ability to perform.Little is done to measure and communicate the need for development at the executive level and/or team level.

Many programs focus on concepts but provide little insight into what needs to be developed and why. Most programs will not quantify the opportunity or identify the significance or insignificance of a particular problem. These programs will give equal weight to all problems as they focus on teaching principles without focusing on the individual’s opportunity to refine and develop skills.

Most will agree that elements of both talent and skill are needed. One cannot achieve at the highest level of any endeavor without some level of talent. The question is how much talent is needed to achieve at the highest levels. Maybe a better question is, given a group of talents, what does one need to develop them further, or to deliver a great or even better performance?

There is an answer to this question, and it is objective in its construct. The answer is, “it depends”. It depends on what we each start with and how much work we need to do to refine skills and adapt our talent. This is why a thorough assessment of talent and skill is so helpful. Many people possess talent in many different areas. Success is derived from one’s ability to deliver at a high level with consistency, given a multitude of situations. Whether it is performing a musical piece, playing a sport, selling, building, fixing, solving a problem, or creating something new; talent is offset or enhanced by one’s ability to deliver with consistency, to refine skills and to leverage individual talent.

There are genetic, motivational traits that will increase the likelihood that one will work longer (Energy), be persistent (Dominance), set high standards for self and others (Discipline), and engage in a direct way with a sense of urgency to achieve an objective (Competing).

There are, however, also many learned behaviors that will speak to one’s ability to tap into the genetic talent with consistency. Let’s start with one’s ability to “be aware,” as listening and selective perception play a major role. These behavioral modes/concepts will determine if you have the information you need to analyze a situation with accuracy and relevance. If a person is overconfident, has high Expertise, lacks the ability to Compromise, is overly positioned or judgmental, and tends to move forward with little information having a low score for Communication (they need little and give little), then they will be hard pressed to leverage talent with consistency. They will significantly diminish their ability to gain insight that will be critical to the next important step.

Using Selective Perception to assess, analyze, and strategize a plan of action will allow for consistent application of talent in pursuit of an objective. If the person has low Accommodation, a low likelihood of adapting or changing to meet the needs or others or a situation, then they further compromise their ability to perform as they do not have an accurate understanding of what they need to do and how they can best contribute.

Having an inaccurate understanding of the situation is the first dynamic that will compromise performance, but what if the individual fails to “Connect?” Yes, motivation and genetics play a big part, but so do attitude and sense of humor. If a person lacks goodwill, care, and compassion, they present as more transactional. With people like this, it is harder to make a connection, as they are not able to see the lighter side of situations. In addition, if people have low Compromise (judgmental and positioned at the onset) and also have low accommodation (a limited ability to move in new directions), they will not be someone with whom it is easy to work.

This person has compromised Social and Social acumen. We have now defined a situation were five learned behaviors (Goodwill, Compromise, Accommodation, Expertise, and Communication) have significantly compromised one’s ability to “Be Aware” and “Connect.” These same five behaviors can create more challenges as we look at one’s ability to “Participate” situationally, take on Risk, be part of the team, engage and learn and grow in a dynamic way (Coachability), and “Contribute.” That is, control situations and influence in a positive way with the ability to help others resolve conflict through the resolution of problems in a way that will allow for effective Implementation.

If we continue to focus only on the five behaviors mentioned earlier, we can see how inconsistency will continue to disrupt or compromise one’s ability to participate and contribute. Let’s flip the scenario for a moment. If Compromise and Accommodation are high, the person enters a situation with no opinion and no desire to explore the possibilities, and is willing to move in a new direction regardless of the options, then the person fails to engage and or act. This will have a significant impact on the person’s ability to participate and contribute to a successful outcome.

The good news is that people do want to get better, and that most people have the desire and ability to do so. People can improve and develop skills that will help them perform at higher levels if they know what it is that they need to develop and what they need to manage. This is a material opportunity for Executives and companies.

Companies that assess behavioral dynamics and communicate materiality of behavioral models relative to success and challenges will measurably impact performance at the individual and organizational level. This is not something that is nice, but rather something that you need to have. Companies that do not target behavioral development will continue to achieve at the level of their competitors; they will find that their teams will take longer and achieve less. This will be compounded by the ever-growing pressure to adapt and innovate.

The cost in time and economics should not be significant. Programs need to be implemented that are measurable, objective, and consistent in their application. People need feedback. They need to understand what they need to develop and how to develop. As companies take these steps, they will leverage talent, the genetic gifts of their employees with consistency, and they will see improved efficiency and higher level of success at every level.

Note: Scores and profiles referenced in this article refer to characteristics defined in the EurekaConnect Behavioral Dynamics program

About the author: Curtis R. Sprouse is the President and CEO of EurekaConnect, LLC. Curtis has spent over 25 years building companies and consulting for hundreds of the fortune 500 companies. EurekaConnect, LLC uses proven technologies and data driven solutions that objectively and measurably improve organizational performance. For more information please email: