Which Employee: Passionate or Talented
As I was perusing some blogs a while back, I came upon a question: “In small business, which is more valuable, highly passionate employees or highly talented employees?” Since 1) there was no agreement, and 2) this is my column, I’ll give you my thoughts.
First, let’s get rid of the obvious answer: Both. We’ve got to choose one or the other. Next let’s define terms. The passionate employee is one who has a strong, compelling, emotional connection to the job or task at hand. The talented employee is one who has a particular ability or aptitude to do the job or task at hand.
I find that taking the two extremes can often be beneficial when examining questions like this. So, would you rather have a person who really wants to do the job, really likes doing it, can’t dream of doing anything else, but is particularly bad at it? Or would you rather have the person who is exceptional at the job, knows all the ins and outs, can react to any circumstance the job throws at them, but really just doesn’t give a damn about it?
Well, I’m not sure that you’d want either one of the two. With Miss Passion you wouldn’t have to worry about her doing the job. She lives to do the job. But you would have to worry about her doing the wrong job. With Miss Talent at least you’d know the job would get done right. You’re just not sure if the job will get done. And you pray that in getting the job done, she doesn’t alienate her peers and your customers.
Alas, the extremes don’t seem to help much here. So let’s try another technique. Maybe we don’t have an extreme person, let’s instead have an extreme job.
This time we look at an airline pilot. “Well,” you say, “the answer’s obvious…I want talent!” And you are partly correct. I really want a person who is excellent in landing the plane that I am in. But what if their lack of passion causes them to have a little drink before they board the plane? What if it allows them to skip the pre-flight checks? What if they, instead of paying attention to what they are doing, are instead surfing the web from the cockpit and overfly the airport for an hour or so?
So while using extremes has not given us the answer of Passion vs. Talent, it has pointed out something very important. An absence of either one is disastrous. Therefore we need an employee who has at least a moderate level of passion and a moderate level of talent.
One of the points made by many people on the blog was that while talent can be a skills training issue, it is difficult, if not impossible to train passion. I’m not sure that is true. For while we can send a whole lot of folks through medical school, flight training, or an NFL training camp, very few have the innate talent to make it through, regardless of their passion. So while I can increase talent in a person, there is a limit. And that limit may be below what would be considered acceptable.
When it comes to passion, I have fewer examples of passion being trained. However I have seen passion discovered by an individual or squashed by another. Those of us who love our jobs don’t really love every single part of it, but the less desirable parts are easily tolerated in light of the whole. The thrill of victory makes up for a lot of agonies suffered in defeat.
In conclusion, I have no conclusion. I want that pilot to be of great talent and of great passion. I want the salesperson to be able to provide me the information and service I want and the true desire to help me. I want the obvious answer: Both.