Hey Jerry Jones: Individual Talent is Often Overrated

Josh Letourneau Joshua Letourneau, Leadership, Performance

Dallas Cowboys hype – that’s what the 2008-09 NFL regular season was all about, especially early on. Nearly everywhere on the roster was individual talent at the top of its class. In particular areas whereTO crying there was room for improvement, Jerry Jones (Team Owner) invested diligently on the free agent market.  The focus on individual talent was so paramount that character and integrity were diminished as qualities not pivotal to performance “on the field.”  Case in point: Adam “Pacman” Jones was signed to a 1-yr deal despite being arrested six times and involved in twelve instances requiring police intervention since his drafting by the Tennessee Titans in 2005.

Despite exceptional talent at each individual position, Dallas not only greatly underperformed expectations — they got worse as the season moved on.  When redemption was in site, we had the distinct pleasure of watching the pinnacle of ‘stinkdom’ as the Cowboys laid an egg in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.  In a “win and you’re in the playoffs” scenario, they were blown out 44-6.  Despite all that talent, they were beaten mentally, emotionally, and physically.  And unlike last year’s debacle, we didn’t even get to see TO cry, “That’s my quarterback” in the post-game media session.

Today, the hunt for a scapegoat is on.  Some blame the Head Coach for a lack of leadership.  Others blame the assistant coordinators for a poor game plan.  Many place fault squarely on the shoulders of the quarterback, Tony Romo.  There are a number of people and factors that can be pointed to, but if there is one thing for sure, it’s that the Cowboys lacked chemistry and cohesiveness. They didn’t communicate or collaborate, and ultimately, they lost. Could it have been the relentless focus on individual talent above all things?

Consider our role as Talent Acquisition Professionals for a moment.  Many Recruiters (both internal and external) forget about what the essence of “team” really means by virtue of our position itself.  It’s understandable – 9 times out of 10, we’re asked to find the most talented individual in a given market.  It doesn’t initially cross our minds to find the best ‘teammate’ – in fact, resumes themselves aren’t about communicating anything more than individual accomplishments.  Those resumes that reference the word ‘team’ more than twice are considered as if the candidate is hiding behind collaborative accomplishments because they have none to claim as their own.  And ponder the dance of interviewing for a moment — How many coaches recommend a candidate speak about team accomplishments instead of blowing their horn?  Yeah, my sentiments exactly . . .

Put simply, the 2008 Cowboys brought me back to the truth about individual talent.  In football, 11 must come together to act as 1 single unit.  All the individual talent in the world means very little if the team doesn’t play together. ‘Execution’ is about more than doing your personal job well; it’s about working together as one.  Yes, a team player can be a superb individual player as well, but the truth is that the team player is more concerned with winning as a unit than what their individual statistics look like after the game.

So, the next time you interview someone who speaks about a team accomplishment, don’t write them off so quickly.  With a further flattening and decentralizing Global Economy, you just might have a true winner on your hands . . .

Josh Letourneau is the owner of Knight & Bishop, an Executive Search and Human Capital Intelligence firm, with an emerging focus on Social Network Analysis (SNA). Nope, not like MySpace, but more like who is connected to whom in organizations and how does that impact their influence on decision making and P.O.V.s. And you can learn more about all of this on his new blog .