I recently read an article in HR Magazine, published by the Society for Human Resource Management, entitled “The Great Talent Mismatch,” which explains that we’re in a global talent shortage and that this talent scarcity will shape hiring practices for decades to come. No longer are we in an era of talent management but rather of “talent creation,” which got me wondering about some of the particular traits employers would need to scout out going forward. Certainly, subject area expertise is important, technology skills will matter, but other personal traits must play a role in raw talent. This, in turn, got me thinking about my dad (it is, after all, Father’s Day). With more than 20 years under my belt in the workforce (and well past my 10,000 hour mark), I can look back and attribute several important traits to things my dad taught me:
- A Strong Work Ethic: The adage “do as I do, not as I say”—in other words, kids are going to model what you do regardless of what you say—surely applies to work ethic. My father was a physician in private practice for more than 35 years. He worked long hours and we were one of the few families who ate a late dinner in the mill towns and steel valleys around Pittsburgh, PA. He often took on-call duty, frequently on holidays, and if memory serves me he missed just one day of work, ever (I know this can’t be accurate but the fact that it’s my belief is the instructive point). I knew he had paid his dues through med school, internships, and residency and certainly expected success and financial security but only after all of these steps were complete. I am certain I internalized much of my work ethic from him (equally my mother) and have operated much the same way in my professional life. When I hire new employees, I listen for these types of influences because my belief is that once you’ve snagged someone who is driven to work hard and accepts that his or her goals might take some time to achieve, there is tremendous room for career development. I also believe not all of this work should be intellectual, that a little manual labor goes a long way, which leads to…
- Never Miss a Teaching Moment: My father rarely passed up the opportunity to be instructive, and one major teaching moment from my childhood involved building fences around two 5-acre fields to hold the horses (as if caring for the horses alone was not work enough). My four siblings and I were each assigned a tool and stood in a line until our task/tool was called. Much like a surgeon, my father would bark out “post hole digger” (no auger, we were hard core), “tamp,” “spud pole,” while we stood, bored, shifting our weight from side to side. And when fully exasperated, he might interject, “Anticipate, you need to think ahead!” It wasn’t until much later that I realized how much easier it would have been for my dad to do much of this alone—much quicker and likely of higher quality as well. It’s a lesson I draw upon often as a mother of three with a business to run, when I’m tempted to just do it and leave them out of it. To this day, my siblings and I can share a laugh over the mantra “tamp, spud pole, anticipate!” knowing full well it was formative, helping us be teachers and learners.
- Curiosity and Inquiry: Family dinner was mandatory in my household growing up and the place where big questions or riddles were thrown out to the group. One such question posed was “Why is the sky blue?” after which my dad launched into the explanation of the color blue having a shorter wavelength, and so on. (He was taking a continuing education astronomy course at the time, also a signal to us that curiosity could be maintained through adulthood). If the answer could not be found, someone was assigned to consult the encyclopedia and to read aloud—there, on the spot.
These experiences may not be terribly unique but I have some sense that they shaped my future professional life as much as my degree programs have. The ability to consistently work hard, to teach and be taught, to be inquisitive and curious—for a lifetime—are apparently skills in short supply. I have to think the talent creation process can happen—and the talent crisis may not be quite so dramatic—if we just go back to some of these old-time basics.