What Defines Talent

Perhaps you have heard the adage that in times of crisis some people pass water, some tread water and some walk on water.  It does have a bit of a religious overtone, but it is also an apt description of first responders; those that in times of crisis run towards the challenge, not away.  It is also a common denominator emblematic of successful social impact entrepreneurs.

People are wired differently; that is fairly obvious.  Think, for a moment, about how some people spend their leisure time; laying on the beach reading a good book or climbing El Capitan solo.  Cruising the Mediterranean or trekking to Antarctica just because it’s there.  Successful social impact entrepreneurs we observe are the doers, like the rock climber traversing a sheer vertical wall, or trekker tackling Antarctica’s harsh climate.  The common denominator? Unrelenting tenacity.

Yet, tenacious people often believe that they can and must do everything by themselves to be successful, even if they lack some of the expertise required to do it.  So, they tenaciously pursue solutions that frequently lead to a dead end.  However, when tenacious people with positive self-esteem recognize that reaching out for support is a strength, not a weakness, results improve dramatically.  Dead ends are circumvented, solutions are implemented efficiently.  Progress accelerates.  This combination of drive and self-esteem in the leadership of social impact enterprises is a spectacular combination. 

We at GIF know that in the end that talent is the key to success and we mean talent that is driven, self-assured and wise enough to surround him or herself with others with the same drive, the same self-esteem and the knowledge and skills that complement their own.  The sum of the parts is clearly greater than the whole.

The environment of a social impact enterprise focused on poverty eradication is unforgiving.  Little to no infrastructure, extreme weather, political shenanigans, language barriers and cultural idiosyncrasies are just a few of the challenges faced by organizations endeavoring to do the right thing.  It is not easy.  Those organizations that are making measurable progress are far more likely to face the challenges head on, pushing forward, playing and testing hypothesizes with a persistence regardless of their own personal needs. They do not give up.

I was fortunate early in my career to be invited to a team building seminar.  Naturally jaded (I am a native New Yorker) I thought, at the outset, that I would be taught well intentioned approaches to team building only to return to the daily grind, get caught up in the inevitable fire drills and then revert to the old way business was being done.  But, I was wrong.  The very first day the attendees were split into groups and given a life threatening problem to solve.  It was a revealing exercise.  The team was on a plane that ended up flying off course and then crashed in the desert.  Everyone survived (even the cynical New Yorker) and we salvaged twenty items from the wreckage.  The moderator asked us to do two things.  First, individually rank the salvaged items in order of importance for survival.  Then, second, do the same thing as a group.   Remarkably, everyone who ranked items individually ended up dead in the desert before rescuers arrived.  Everyone who worked together survived.

I have never forgotten this lesson that, in fact, was based upon a true story.  Ever since that day I have always tried to work collectively recognizing that others often brought perspectives to the table that made the team stronger.  It seems like a no brainer.  But, the workplace can be very fickle.  Fickleness in the unrelenting challenging environment of social impact enterprises tackling poverty can be life threatening.  The enterprises will fail. Progress on poverty will be set back. 

Run towards the danger.  Bring like-minded people with you.  Embrace ideas from others.  Walk on water.