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Two Most Important Words for Assessing Talent

Are you an “and” or a “but”? The answer may determine how far you go in life.

In a recent video, Nick Saban—Head Coach of the University of Alabama football team—talks about how the words “and” and “but” could not be more different on a scouting report. A talented running back who is a powerhouse on the field and is a team player with a positive attitude rises to the top of the list. On the other hand, a talented running back who is a powerhouse on the field but is a chronic complainer who does not get along with teammates falls to the bottom of the list.

A minimum level of talent is a prerequisite for any role. However, a person’s character is the ultimate deciding factor. After all, if you are a great player but toxic to be around, who is going to want you on their team?

This insight is profound both from a leadership perspective as well as thinking about your own personal development. As leaders, we ignore the “but” at our own peril. It is tempting to minimize character flaws in a rush to fill a seat when we find someone who checks all the skills boxes on paper. In doing so, we inflict that person’s behavior on the rest of the team. Worse, we communicate to the team that, if you are talented enough, character really does not matter. Are you assessing talent based on competence and character, or minimizing or rationalizing the “but” to fill a seat?

Saban’s insight is also a good reminder on the importance of working on your own character. It is easy to focus exclusively on developing skills because they are easier to measure. However, if you want to be at the top of the consideration list for future opportunities, you must make the development of your character a top priority. This means having clarity about the character traits you want to develop in yourself.

The 12 Behaviors of an Actively Engaged Person model provides this level of clarity. It is a model of someone who pursues excellence in every area of life. It is also a character model in that each of the behaviors is learned and developed into habit through practice. The value of the model is it provides a lens through which to assess talent, coach for development and work on our own development.


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