Things That Do Not Require Talent

Things That Do Not Require Talent
By Dr. John C. Maxwell

Talent grips us. We are overtaken by the beauty of Michelangelo’s sculpture, riveted by Mariah Carey’s angelic voice, doubled over in laughter by the comedy of Robin Williams, and captivated by the on screen performances of Denzel Washington.

However, we live in a world of upsets. The most talented do not always end up as celebrities, and those with less talent often do. Upsets are written into our history and occur around us every day. A ragtag army of revolutionaries defeated the British Empire to free the American colonies and to found a new nation. As a startup company, Google outwitted and outperformed entrenched search engines which had far more capital and name recognition.

Why are the most talented not always the best?  What enables the less skilled to be, at times, far more successful?

The goal of this edition of LW is not to minimize talent, but to emphasize qualities independent of talent which, when practiced, add value to others and ourselves. While the four traits I’ve highlighted in this lesson are not comprehensive, they are among the most prominent qualities that do not rely upon talent.


The desire to listen, learn, and apply is not innate, but when cultivated, it aids the growth and development of a leader. In the words of Henry Brooks Adams “They know enough who know how to learn.”

Look for and plan your teachable moments. Intentionally ask questions to draw out the depth of experience and knowledge in those around you. My best friends are my best teachers. I love to learn, and I am fascinated by individuals who have a wealth of wisdom to share. As Beltasar Gracian said, “Make your friends your teachers and mingle the pleasures of conversation with the advantages of instruction.” Find teachable moments, and make them count. Live to learn and you will really learn to live.

Successful people view learning differently than those who are less successful. For successful leaders, learning is as necessary as breathing. They crave knowledge and seek it out through books, conferences, conversations, and evaluated experiences. The unsuccessful person is burdened by learning, and prefers to walk down familiar paths. Their distaste for learning stunts their growth and limits their influence.


Initiative is the inner drive that propels leaders to achieve great dreams. American founding father, Benjamin Franklin, held to the following maxim about initiative: “To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.” Leaders with initiative have an eagerness to make things happen. They have a positive restlessness that prevents them from being content with average.

A person with initiative accepts responsibility for his or her own life. Such a person authors their own history. As Elbert Hubbard says, “The world bestows its prizes, both its money and honors, on one thing and that’s initiative. What is initiative? I will tell you. It is doing the right thing without being told.” Initiators incline themselves toward action.


Passion is a faultless predictor of success. How many high achievers lack enthusiasm? How many great leaders do you admire who are indifferent? A dispassionate person will not go far before they give up hope of achieving big dreams. On the other hand, a person of passion will move mountains to see their dream come to fruition. Passion long outlasts talent for a leader in pursuit of a vision.

When it comes to passion, there are two kinds of people: fire lighters and fire fighters. Fire fighters focus on what’s wrong with an idea rather than what’s right. They possess a doubting spirit, and they resist change. Fire fighters love the words “Yes, but.” They are always finding flaws, and they dampen the fire inside of those around them.

Avoid fire fighters at all costs, and instead, seek out fire lighters. Fire lighters are encouragers. They uplift and sustain others through tough times. They share in triumphs, and spur others toward bigger and better performances.

Successful individuals prioritize their commitments according to their passion. They refuse to be dissuaded from living out the dream inside of them. When troubles come, they don’t have to artificially generate perseverance—it sweeps over them like an ocean wave.


Courage is an every day test. We often think of courage as a quality required only in times of great danger or stress, but courage is an everyday virtue, needed to live a life without regrets. In the words of James Harvey Robinson, “Greatness, in the last analysis, is largely bravery. Courage is escaping from old ideas and old standards and respectable ways of doing things.”

Plentiful reasons add courage to the list of admirable qualities that exist apart from talent. We need courage to seek the truth when we know it may be painful. We need courage to change when it’s easier to remain comfortable. We need courage to express our convictions when others challenge us. We need courage to learn and grow, especially when doing so exposes our weaknesses. We need courage to take the high road when others treat us badly, and lastly, we need courage to lead when being in front makes us an easy target for criticism.

Perhaps Miguel Cervantes best summarizes courage: “He who loses wealth loses much; he who loses friends loses more; but he who loses his courage loses all.”


There is no substitute for talent, but there are several supplements that can transform even modest talent into greatness. Teachability, initiative, passion, and courage are a sampling of qualities that endow talent with effectiveness and spur average skills sets into extraordinary success stories. Don’t minimize talent, but magnify the qualities that can accompany it, and build them day by day.


-Esse Quam Videri-