Be a people leader: part 4 – what role will skills and talents play in your framework?

An approach to talent should have the simple-but-vital remit of putting the right people in the right roles, says Eugenio Pirri

I love to sing and I love art. Sadly, I will never be as good a singer as my fellow Canadian Celine Dion, nor will I ever paint like Pablo Picasso, no matter how hard I try. There I’ve said it. And believe me, I try…

The statement above summarises, for me, the difference between skills and talent. I can take singing lessons or improve my painting skills but I will never have the natural talent of the artists I have mentioned. Skills can be taught; talent is inherent.

I define talent as everyone in any organisation. Talent is not confined to ‘pools’ as some experts might tell you. And talent does not merely mean people identified as having high potential. Talent  is abundant and can  be found throughout the business. It can be recognised in the people who champion your culture and live your organisation’s values, whether at entry level or in more senior roles, on the frontline or behind the scenes. It is in those who will be the leaders of the future.

But I recognise the impact that the nurturing of talent has on people, in terms of improving their prospects; the impact on our communities of encouraging social mobility; the impact on our customers of providing them with world-class service; the impact on our companies of positioning them to grow exponentially; and on our sector, when we raise the profile of exceptional people.


Individuals have innate talents. Too many organisations still fail to understand that some people are born with natural talents and others are
not – talent cannot be created or forced. But, if you understand your own talents you will recognise with whom, and where, you can work well.

Over the years, through various talent assessments, I’ve discovered that I’m naturally a very strategic person; once I figured this out, I wanted to become more strategic and to learn more about it. This enabled me to develop strategy that got results.

According to Gallup’s strengthfinders report, I am:

  1. STRATEGIC – a ‘big picture thinker’, able to ‘see the roadmap’ and how to get to a destination
  2. AN ACTIVATOR – good at getting things done, taking action on decisions, saying “let’s start now”
  3. A MAXIMISER – great is not good enough, I only accept excellence
  4. A RELATER with an ability to empathise with others and see things from different perspectives
  5. FUTURISTIC – able to imagine what’s over the horizon and to think about where we are going

I also found out that while I’m capable of achieving ‘harmony’, it is not a natural talent of mine. I thrive on a little conflict in relationships and I don’t expect my team members to be best friends. I understand the obsession with achieving harmony, but I think disagreement helps you learn (it’s also one of the first things you learn in life, so why not embrace it?).

So, for me, there are degrees of talent. As individuals, we each have a range of qualities and talents, some of which will be stronger than others. Everything is about degrees and scales, so when it comes to talent, nothing is black and white; it’s as much about considering and developing the talents you have that are further down the scale as those at the forefront of your repertoire.

Think about your natural talents; if in doubt, there are various online tests available from reputable companies such as Gallup, Dale Carnegie, Talent Q and iWam which can help you identify them. A quick search will help you track down the right tool for your needs.


Unlike talents, skills can be learned or developed. Talent can also be enhanced (though you start from  a slightly different base) but it cannot be instilled in a person or taught from scratch.

For instance, a waiter might be a natural at greeting diners and making guests feel welcome (talent), but still require training in how to provide silver service (skill). All skills can be taught – but to varying degrees. If you’re naturally talented at singing, I can give you some training and you’ll be amazing. But if somebody is not a natural singer, even with the same training, they will only attain a limited level of success. Just like a degree of talent, there is a degree of skill.

Anyone can be taught to paint, but not everyone will have their work displayed in the Tate Britain. Anyone can follow a recipe, but not everyone can decorate a cake with creative flair.

That is the difference between talent and skill.

There are two types of skill: hard skills and soft skills.

I believe we spend too much time contemplating physical (hard) skills (such as writing, cooking or public speaking) and not enough time thinking about the emotional (soft) skills.

Soft skills are around empathy, caring, listening – anyone can be taught to listen, but some people are naturally ‘good listeners’. So even when it comes to emotional skills it’s important to stress that people start from different bases. You can teach anyone to study for a test, but if someone has talent in a particular area, that will influence the level to which they excel. They might be particularly numerate, literate, enjoy puzzles and so on. In the hotel industry, we teach people up to six different techniques for learning guests’ names because different members of staff will find it easier to learn guests’ names in different ways. One way may be finding out a guest’s name and repeating it several times to yourself; another might involve associating a feature with that person (though don’t pick something that can be changed, such as glasses). They both achieve the same result – making it easier to recall names – but people are able to choose the approach most suited to their preferred learning technique.

There are many people out there who say you can master anything by putting in 10,000 hours of practice; however, to my mind, it involves more than that. It’s about determination, dedication, desire, being a futurist.

It’s about using your strengths to boost your skills. So if you know that your strength lies in research, use that strength to master your skill by studying, exploring and asking questions. If your strength is in strategising, create a strategy and action plan to achieve your goal. Use the tools available to you – don’t just rely on practice.

In the war for talent, is it time for peace?

In survey after survey, year after year, it is revealed that CEOs plan to adapt their talent strategy drastically in an

effort to retain future leaders. These surveys imply that the ‘war for talent’, a phrase coined by McKinsey back in the pre-recession noughties, is raging on. Experts refer to the current climate as a “heated labour market” in which employers are competing for top talent.

Some commentators have gone as far as to suggest that this “war is over and talent has won”. But what does that even mean?

I have to question why employers and recruits are allegedly battling with each other, when there is so much competition facing both in the global recruitment market. Surely there is a way for both employers and recruits/employees to win?

Rather than being frightened of talent, employers – and that means you, as leaders – need to clarify the definition of talent in their own heads, to understand what it means in terms of their leadership framework and people strategy.

You have to look at yourself first, acknowledge your own values, talents and skills, then work out how you will use these in reality. This could be within your department, your discipline, country, continent or the world…

If you, as a leader, have not clarified your own definition of talent, you are going to find yourself confused when it comes to any facet of people leadership.

Take some time to think about your own talents and the talent of your organisation in terms of inclusion, diversity, ethics, values and your economic environment.

In any war, strategy and tactics are key to success and, in most cases, the simpler the strategy the more effective it will be. I have a simple, yet tactical, approach to hiring, developing and retaining the best people that is not all about analysing ‘talent pools’ or ‘talent pipelines’.

An approach to talent should have the simple-but-vital remit of putting the right people in the right roles. This is the secret to delivering the best customer experience and to growing your business.

If, when hiring, you combine values-based talent attributes with alignment to company culture, your recruits, given the right learning, development and coaching, will achieve personal growth and success and ensure the growth and success of the organisation.

Taking my thoughts on skills and talent a step further, I believe that each of your employees, current and future, has a natural ability to achieve near perfect performance. You simply need match their ability to the right role or department.

If everybody is put in a position in which they are able to use their natural talents, understand their company’s culture and receive ongoing learning and development, their potential for performance is limitless.

I use this formula as part of my HR strategy and conduct online talent assessments or face-to-face interviews to help identify the top performers. I look at who has the potential to execute a specific role, whether they are the right fit for our culture and what specific investment is required to help them grow.

The same is absolutely true for you as an individual. Once you’re sure of your talents and skills and recognise the areas in which you could undertake further training to maximise your performance, you can thrive in an organisation – provided its corporate culture is right for you. Remember, you cannot succeed in an organisation where you cannot buy into its culture or share its mission and values.

Over to you

Think about the skills in which you have undertaken training, and your natural talents, and work out how these could be used to enhance your CV and shape your career path.

Eugenio Pirri is an award- winning hospitality stalwart with a career  spanning over 25 years; beginning in rooms division and then food and beverage, before making the transition into human resources. As a Chief People and Culture Officer for a global hotel management company, Eugenio is responsible for all aspects of HR, learning and development, employee and guest engagement, innovation and corporate responsibility, working with all functions in the business to ensure people are the cornerstone of every business decision.

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