Talent or Motor?

Don’t underplay the intangibles–motor matters.

One of the more useful metaphors used in the American Football world is the concept of “motor.”

Anybody who has been inside of football at the highest levels has heard a very particular description of players that is, perhaps, the highest compliment there is to an individual’s character as a player… “He’s got a great motor.”

It’s actually kind of a funny phrase to think about, as if some guys have better engines inside their bodies than others. But, it’s one of the more honest assessments that can come out of a scout’s mouth.

Why?  Because it cuts through the crap.  A guy can be 6’6″, leap tall buildings and lift elephants; but if he plays with “no motor” he’ll be an also-ran.  Professional football’s history is littered with magnificent physical specimens who have been outplayed by shorter, fatter, weaker teammates with bad bodies, stiff joints, balding heads, and great motors.  In fact, one of the dirty little secrets of the National Football League is that for every “best athlete” on the field, there are probably a half dozen or more so-called “high motor” guys who couldn’t win a footrace.

Count on it.

High motor guys may not have the most talent, but they get the most out of what they have.  They are, in a broader vocabulary world, tenacious.  They are relentless.  They are dogged. They are aggressive, earnest, forceful, focused, incessant, persistent, ceaseless, and unremitting.

You get the picture.

Why this matters to you as an executive.

In forming highly executable strategic plans, we always end up in the discussion about talent.  A given organization having the talent to execute a given strategy is not…a given.  So, as practical practitioners, we focus in on the who once the what and when are coming into focus.

Unfortunately, talent discussions can focus in on tangible qualities of individuals and ignore intangibles.  In other words, talent discussions focus on a guy’s time in the footrace vs. productivity on the field.  Only, in a corporate environment, this looks like “where he went to school,” “what degree he has,” “who he has worked for,” and “what business he has been in.”  vs. “what he did to change things while there.”

People with motor in the business world make things happen as individuals.  They may be system players, but they rise above others and show what they can do through their tenacity and relentlessness.

And, you can see it from the earliest points in their career.  High motor professionals do things that others don’t.  They deliver work beyond their years.  They teach themselves.  They think about issues even when they are off the clock. They care about their work as a reflection of themselves. 

In your strategic planning, don’t forget the talent.  In your talent planning, don’t forget the intangibles.

Motor matters.

What do you think?

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