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Leadership – No Talent Required

Talent not Required 2

While not all leaders will develop their talents and abilities to the same level, all successful leaders  more or less begin with the same foundation. Here’s the thing – the foundational elements of leadership require no skill or talent whatsoever. Clearly the difference possessed by all great leaders is that they refine, develop and build from their foundation – they don’t ignore it or take it for granted.  However the most important thing I want to communicate today is that I’d take an unrefined leader with a strong foundation over a slick leader with a weak foundation eleven times out of ten.  In today’s post I’ll share 6 leadership characteristics that require zero talent or skill.

What we’re experiencing today is too much form over substance – leaders lacking in foundation, but replete with social/political savvy. You can work with someone where the basics are in place, but lacking certain fundamentals, there really isn’t much you can do. Organizations would be well served to move past the infatuation with beauty contests and look for real strength in the areas that matter. In the list that follows I’m going to share with you 6 leadership characteristics that require absolutely no talent or ability, but that must be present in order to succeed over the long-haul as a leader.

  1. Show-up: You can’t make a difference if you don’t show-up. It requires zero talent to be present mentally and physically. In most sports I’m aware of you cannot play if you don’t suit-up and show-up. Leadership is a participation sport and never works well in absentia.
  2. Care: There is great truth in the old axiom “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Extending basic human courtesy requires no talent – just a willingness to behave in a decent manner. It’s highly probable that you don’t like rude, elitist, arrogant, dismissive, or condescending people, so don’t become one yourself.
  3. Hustle: I learned this lesson at an early age…I had a basketball coach take me aside after I finished far ahead of the pack after a long set of down-and-backs. He pointed to a slower teammate who was still running his lines and said, “he may not be as fast, but he’s giving 100% – Did you?” He went on to say, “it takes no talent to hustle and your team deserves better.” I don’t ever remember dogging-it again.
  4. Follow Through: It takes no ability to simply do what you say you’re going to do. Nothing is more important for a leader than keeping promises and commitments. A leader who fails to understand this will never create the trust bond necessary to lead effectively. It’s just not that hard to deliver on your promises, and if you have no intention of doing so, don’t make the commitment to begin with.
  5. Positive Attitude: To the one, the best leaders I’ve ever known all smile, listen, engage, have a positive outlook, and have a high energy level. This is a mindset thing, not a talent thing – it’s as simple as making the choice to be pleasant.
  6. Do the Right Thing: While it will often require courage, it takes no talent or ability to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Real leaders don’t compromise when it comes to core values. It takes no skill to tell the truth and great leaders will always forgo doing things right where such actions conflict with doing the right thing.

There is no doubt that the list above could be expanded as there are large numbers of leadership characteristics that require no talent or ability, just desire. This is where you come in – it’s your turn to share. Please add to the list by adding your contributions in the comments section below. Let’s see how many leadership characteristics we can come up with that require no talent…

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    Dan Black

    February 9, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Great thoughts. I really enjoy reading your blog.


      February 9, 2011 at 12:10 am

      Thanks Dan…I appreciate your comment and please stop by again…

    Deon Newbronner

    February 9, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Fab post. Am so going to use this as stimuli this morning in a Leadership Drop In Session. I agree with all posts, however for me a key talent is LISTENING. Opening up all your senses. Eyes, ears, feelings and thinking. It ties into self-aware post. And crucially listening to others using eyes, ears, body, emotions and thinking. As leaders we should be asking more questions than having answers. As Covey puts it: seeking first to be understand before being understood. Thanks!


      February 9, 2011 at 12:15 am

      Thanks Deon:

      I agree that "listening" is a critical skill for leaders. That said, I'm not sure it falls under the category of requiring no skill or talent. Active, intentional, empathetic, and analytical listening all require a bit of development. However I will agree that just being willing to listen puts you ahead of the most people…Thanks for sharing Deon.


    February 9, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Great post Mike. Here are a couple of additional thoughts.

    Be self-aware. It doesn’t take any talent or ability to be honest with yourself, about yourself, and to acknowledge that you don’t know it all. No matter where you are on the leadership continuum, there’s something to be learned every day, from every interaction. The intrinsic value of engaging others–the leader’s takeaway–should always be: “what have I learned from this person? What do I need to learn, do or change?” Then, to give back, tell them! Recognition takes no skill and costs nothing. IMHO, nothing inspires loyalty like expressing our admiration, inspiration, gratitude for the input of others.


    February 9, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Fantastic post Mike. Would love to teach my staff this lesson with your permission. I would like to add one. I think loyalty cost us nothing, yet delivers great reward to a team. Loyalty is a missing ingredient in job market of both the secular and sacred.
    Your post are always eye-opening.



      February 9, 2011 at 12:31 am

      Hi Tom:

      Thanks for the comment and no need to ask permission. I think loyalty is a great addition to the list. It requires no talent, just sincerity. From my perspective, there cannot be a true sense of team without the existence of loyalty. Where there is no team there is no need for a leader. Thanks for stopping by Tom.

    Daniel Johnson

    February 9, 2011 at 12:36 am

    I enjoy your insight. Trustworthy comes to mind.


      February 9, 2011 at 12:41 am

      Agreed…thanks for the kind words and your contribution Dan. Have a great day Sir.

    Abhishek Shivkuamr

    February 9, 2011 at 12:49 am

    Great post Mike. I would like to add Calmness and Tranquility as qualities that I have seen great leaders possess. Regardless of how turbulent and controversial the situation may be, I have seen great leaders always being very calm and tranquil, understanding the situation, keeping up their faith and hoping that a solution always exists that favors everyone. These two qualities, in my opinion doesn't require any sill or talent and one needs to possess a high level of emotional intelligence to be able to demonstrate calmness and tranquility when others are going haywire.

    Thanks again for these valuable thoughts.


    February 9, 2011 at 10:35 am


    “Too much form over substance”. Exactly. I wish HR departments around our country would take note of the character traits you’ve itemized in their hiring and promotion practices.

    I might add to the list, FAITH. I remember hearing Howard Phillips speak once about George Washington. He described him as, an intelligent though not a brilliant man; a plodder with an unwavering faith in Providence that carried him through the war for independence.

    Thanks again. The grounded sanity of your posts are often of great help when I’m compelled to slog through a sea of fluff.


      Mike Myatt

      February 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Ron. I totally agree that faith should be added to the list. Without the proper outlook and perspective it is next to impossible to deal with the inevitable trials one will face as a leader. By the way, George Washington is one of my favorites and I highly recommend his biography for any leader. Thanks again for stopping by Ron.

    Dan Collins

    February 9, 2011 at 3:13 pm


    I like it and would add one more very important item – they need to grin when they fight – in other words they need to really enjoy leading. I covered this, what I consider critically important trait, in a post recently. If it’s not too much to ask I would like to hear your view if you get a chance to comment on it http://bit.ly/faW75m


      Mike Myatt

      February 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm

      Hi Dan:

      I not only agree that it takes no talent to smile, but that it is also a very powerful tool. I’ll stop by your post and leave a comment. Thanks Dan.


    February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Great blog Mike!

    I wonder if a good leader would not get into serious trouble caring, following through, doing the right thing and showing up without managing her/himself. Therefore, I would like to add selfcontrol to the foundation.

    Also, a great leader shows enough authenticity especially in combination with caring. Most people will notice if it is a gimmick.

    Finally, I fully agree that the foundation has to be present. But don’t you believe that it requires a certain talent to use the strong foundation in a way that leadership will be really effective?


      Mike Myatt

      February 9, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      Great addition to the list Roel…all great leaders practice the presence of self-control. It is much easier to lead by example than by hypocritical mandate. I also concur that the more talent one possesses, the better foundational leadership skills can be implemented and leveraged. Thanks for stopping by Roel.


    February 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Clearly you have stated the very ultra important ones. I would add integrity and trust to the list. I am horrible for remembering the authors just pointing out that it was read elsewhere. “There is no such thing as a lapse in integrity.” This one I did not read anywhere but use it all the time when speaking to my troops. “It takes 10 years to build trust and 10 seconds to lose it.” Lastly I like the that says, “If you always tell the truth there is nothing you need to remember.” Great topic and comments, thanks for sharing. Al

    Pastor Tom

    February 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    How about – be a team player, display impeccable loyalty, and be found trustworthy. Great post Mike!

    Michael Dvorscak

    February 10, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Great post. As Adiaz alludes to the characteristic of “Integrity.” Of the all possible characteristics that could be added to the list, I believe it is a must.

    […] claro que la lista se puede ampliar, pero me he basado en la lista publicada por Mike Myatt y por tanto lo he dejado en 6 puntos con contenidos similares a los suyos. Share and […]


    February 4, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    hi Mike ,
    The thing that attracted my attention the most is the way you reply your audiences!! 
    MBA student

      Mike Myatt

      February 4, 2012 at 11:54 pm

      I’m not as responsive as some, but I do have a day job:)

      All kidding aside, I try to answer questions where I can. Thanks for stopping by.

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