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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Which Matters Most? Ambition or Talent?


One of my favorite Saturday routines is spending an hour or so browsing through the weekend edition of the Financial Times on my iPad. There are often fascinating long interviews with newsmakers in a feature called Lunch with the FT and usually some interesting reviews of books I won’t read but am interested in learning a little bit about. Without fail, though, my favorite feature is a short one called The Inventory. Each week, the FT asks a person of note 20 questions, most of which are the same week after week. Two of the most intriguing to me are, “Are you environmentally conscious?” immediately followed by “Do you own more than one home?” Others I like include, “If your 20 year old self could see you now, what would he or she think?” “If you lost everything, what would you do?” and “Do you believe in an afterlife?”

My favorite question in The Inventory, though, is “Which matters most? Ambition or talent?”

While the occasional few interviewees try to fudge it by saying both or by redirecting the question, most come down squarely on one side or the other. Of those with a clear point of view, it seems to be about evenly split between ambition and talent.

Lately, I’ve been asking colleagues and clients this question. One of those folks spent close to 10 years as a bat boy for two major league baseball teams when he was a kid. One of those teams won the World Series. This guy has seen a lot of talent in his life. When I asked him the ambition or talent question, he immediately answered, “Ambition, no question about it.” When I asked him to explain he told me he’d seen a ton of major leaguers with plenty of talent wash out after a year or two. His observation is pretty much everyone at that level has a ton of talent. The differentiator between the stars and the journeymen is ambition. The stars work harder. They put in the hours on the practice and the reps. They block out the distractions. They focus on what they’re there to do. (Derek Jeter comes to mind as I write this.)

As I think about my own observational experience in business and other fields, I’m inclined to agree with my former bat boy friend -- ambition matters most. Sure you have to have a certain amount of talent to get in the gam, but the differentiator is ambition. Another word for it might be relentlessness.

What’s your take? Which matters most? Ambition or talent? Would love to read your opinion and why you have it in the comments.

(Image via Ollyy/Shutterstock.com)

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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