Charles Barkley told Conan O’Brien that the best advice he ever received was being told he was “fat and lazy.” He was a young professional basketball player at the time and asked Moses Malone what would take him to the next level. “What do you mean fat and lazy,” he asked in shock. Malone replied, “Which part don’t you understand, the fat or the lazy part?”
Harsh? Yes. Motivating? In Barkley’s case, very. Conan and Barkley go on to discuss how as a society we are obsessed with talent because that’s the dream – a person who just shows up out of nowhere and blows everyone away. However, as pros in their respective fields, they both know that’s not how it works. Fat, lazy, and talented needs to be converted into big, focused, and talented. This is work ethic.
Talent is sexy, work ethic isn’t. Talent makes a person stand out from the pack. Work ethic makes a person stand out from prior versions of themself. They can still make progress against the group too, but work ethic starts and ends internally. Dreaming is fine, but dreaming and doing is better.
With clients, coworkers, and our own careers, we want to be on the watch for talent. We probably don’t want to tell others they’re fat and lazy, but we do want to look for where we can help put focus on the work required to drive progress. We’ll maximize our impact when we start with talent and improve work ethic. We’ll maximize the value we create by helping turn good into great, and investing our time and energy into refining it.
Sexy? No. Beneficial? Absolutely. On multiple levels. Do find a person’s talents relative to a larger group, but then apply work ethic to drive progress against the individual over time. The only shortcut is raw talent out of the gate. From there, it’s all long-cuts on the journey to the top. Frame the motivation correctly and get to work.