When Talent is Not Enough, Lead and Stand Out in a Sea of Giants!

Talent Hard Work Leader TTA Blog

World-class Great performance is expected because standards are rising in this global economy we are in according to Bestselling Author Geoff Colvin in his book Talent is Overrated. Talent can open the door or get one exposure, but it’s never strong enough to keep you there. There are traits like hardwork, character, and leadership that has staying power and yields a stronger impact.

“Talent can take you so far; Hardwork can take you ANYWHERE.” ~ Hiruma

In a recent interview with former NBA star Earl Boykins, we discussed his journey to success and the keys to his ability to stand out among a sea of giants as the second shortest person to play in the NBA. Although he was naturally gifted with the talent to play basketball, it was not the golden ticket to the NBA.

Everyone has things they are good at, but you can’t rely solely on that. You still must work hard. This is why Earl’s message to his basketball academy is that “Talent is the most overrated thing in this world because Talent can quit! You can make it quit by lacking the necessary work ethic,” nothing in life comes easy.

Earl shares stories of the role mindset, preparation and overcoming disappointments played in how he showed up throughout his 14-year professional career. It ultimately led to the revelation of how soft skills was the missing piece to him becoming a transformational leader on and off the court.

Undrafted out of Eastern Michigan, Boykins was good in multiple sports, but basketball became his passion. Despite being height challenged, Earl was oftentimes the primary scorer, if not the only scorer; recalling a summer league game where he scored 81 of the 110 points for the team. This level of success led to the ineluctable belief that playing in the NBA is possible.

Basketball as a sport presents many learning opportunities. Coupling this with Mr. Boykins journey to making NBA history, we were able to extract 4 ways a leader can stand out in a sea of giants in their community, workplace and the world.

1) Be Coachable

Earl was cocky, arrogant and uncoachable at the age of ten. It was the result of games like the time when he was a 5th grader playing for the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) League, he beat the team by himself by scoring all the points. It led to him believing he made the team. So much so, he told his team “all I need you to do is play defense. I can score enough points by myself.” That was until he didn’t make his high school Varsity team. His coach revealed how he was uncoachable and introduced the concept of team and true leadership. Learning the power of serving and active listening, the team progressed and Earl started to connect more with his coaches and teammates. Great leaders are ale to learn from others.

2) See and Seize Your Vision

Boykins told his high school baseball coach he was quitting the team because he was going to the NBA. Standing 4’11”, his coach laughed at the audacity of his statement. But Earl didn’t let that stop him from seizing his vision. He diligently pursued his goals, intentionally taking steps and engaging only with people connected to basketball; including his friends. Otherwise, they didn’t make the cut. Earl demonstrated at an early age, the value of time and purpose.

3) See Limitations as Opportunities

Earl was often underestimated because he was the shortest on the court. Instead of seeing his height as a liability or barrier, he took on a growth mindset and learned to view it as an opportunity. You see, every time Boykins stepped onto the court, everyone had to adjust and adapt to him. But, this was never the case for Earl. Having always played against individuals taller than him, Earl was able to master his craft, enabling him to out skill and think his opponent. Choosing to see the glass half full and not half empty paid off in many ways.

4) Prepare for Two Levels Higher

At the age of 13, Earl’s dad only let him play against grown men, who were bigger, more skilled and stronger. This level of preparation gave him the cutting edge advantage over his peers, setting him apart from his competition. It spoke to his vision of playing in the NBA. The time to be ready, was not the time to get ready. He had to be prepared to jump at the opportunities at any given time. The calluses he developed along the way are constant reminders of the process for building the stamina and mental capacity needed to get to and through college, on to the NBA unscathed. Life for Earl was literally a big chess game he was living out. He would tell people “We use the same equipment, but we’re not playing the same game.” Your level of preparedness dictates your level of promotion.

Let your talent be the icing on the cake not the cake. As talent can quit, things can happen; then what? Hardwork has many byproducts, but the greatest gift is ownership of your life and goals. This is what keeps you moving forward with a commitment to never give up.

Visit TTA’s Leadership Development page to see how you can make your organization’s leaders stand out!