If you have spent time around youth sports, you have probably heard a mom or dad trot out the motivational gem, “Junior, hard work beats Talent when Talent doesn’t work hard.” Junior listens, then promptly runs out to left field, thinking about what flavor slurpee he’s gonna get after the game.
While it might be wasted on Junior, it actually is a great saying, proven true in both sports and the real world. It draws on our attraction to “scrappiness.” Less talented scrappy employees work hard and never go prima donna. Think Kerri Strug in 1996, sticking the landing after crushing her ankle on the previous vault, or Spud Webb, the 5’7” guard who won the 1986 NBA slam dunk contest. We like scrappy, and we hate lazy talent.
Case in point: ESPN wrote a story titled, The Waste Land of Randy Moss. When you see that title, you’re glad you’re not Randy Moss, the super NFL receiver who retired last year and is now trying to make a comeback. Kids, don’t let someone call you a wasteland. In print. On a national sports news website. From the story:
There’s a line from the Robert DeNiro movie “A Bronx Tale” that I’ve never forgotten. In the movie, DeNiro, as Lorenzo, tells his sometimes-troubled teenage son Calogero, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” If Randy Moss understood that, he’d be the greatest football player ever.
… the painfully obvious arch in Moss’ phenomenal career is that his desire and effort are purely situational. (Although) ESPN NFL analyst Cris Carter… praised Moss’ conditioning, he also readily admitted that Moss’ overwhelming athleticism doesn’t completely mask his most damaging trait—“He has more ‘quit’ in him than any other superstar I’ve ever met.”
…Moss abruptly retired last year because no one was interested in signing a player with situational dedication.
Situational dedication is my new favorite term—it perfectly captures what we dislike about talented people who mail it in. No scrappiness, no hard work, only occasional flashes of brilliance that you can’t count on. Unfortunately, you have talented people like this on your team right now. Because they are not getting called out on a national website, though, here are some profiles to help you identify them:
- Playground—Needs to be picked to be on the “good team” to work hard. Put her on a team where she needs to bring up others, and she pouts and quits.
- Good Times—will work when the team is winning, but is a team cancer when things go south. He ruins his manager’s career and then quits.
- Spotlight—needs constant attention from others. Will work hard when she gets it, but quits if others are getting kudos.
- Climber—will do a job for a while, have some success, but then want the next role, often before he is ready. Performs in spurts, then quits.
You’ll know these people because their reputations vary widely across the company. Put ten leaders in the room to discuss staff allocations, and three think the person is great, three think the person is a quitter, and the remaining four, who have not managed the person, lock up with indecision.
We hear things like, “The team with the best talent wins,” but we all know that is false. Situational desire and effort make a huge difference in how effective any individual or group performs. To combat it, carefully position the prima donnas while you keep looking for the next scrappy player.