“To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability…The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” Matthew 25:15-18 (NIV)
The Parable of the Talents is one of my favorite stories because it hits me on so many levels. First off, the play on words is something I appreciate. A talent was a measurement used for money in the Bible days and represented something very valuable. Today we recognize a talent to be a valuable skill or ability. Then there is the magic of parables that enables us to derive a deeper meaning from them and even watch the meaning change as we grow.
When I first heard this parable, I interpreted it from the perspective of how I was gifted with certain abilities and it was up to me to use those to elevate myself in the world. As time went on, I realized I need to use my talents to invest in others so they can grow and make their lives better. Now, my view has evolved even further into how to manage and grow the talent that those on my team possess.
As leaders, we often follow the path of the three men in this story. Some have someone who is very talented, but bury his abilities. We may be afraid that someone else will notice him and want to take him from the team. Maybe someone will see he is more talented than me and he will become my boss. Talent is not something to be afraid of.
When our leaders see we can manage the talent on our team, they are pleased with our ability to do so and often promote us based on how we leverage talent. The other two men took the talents given to them and invested them to receive a return on that investment. The only difference between them was the amount each was given based on their abilities. Their master knew his men and what they could handle.
I like to picture managing talent like starting a camp fire. When someone our team is trying to get the fire going, they are exercising their talents for the good of the team. Those afraid to let their talent shine toss water on the fire or hide the tools to get it going. All they are doing is angering their talented people and both are standing cold in the dark. Meanwhile, the opposite are fanning the flames and finding sticks for their talent to use to make the fire stronger. This team not only is warm, but others become attracted to the flames.
We all have areas where we are talented. I have never met someone who had zero talent (although with some I had to look harder than others). It is up to us to seek out and recognize the abilities of those on our team and to leverage those to 1) meet the mission and 2) grow others on the team. It is up to us to fuel their fires so they can shine and help the whole team.
I personally hope that I am never the most talented or smartest person on my team. If I am, we are destined to fail. Not because I think I am not talented, but because it is a sign I am not investing my ability into those I am entrusted to lead. I have been given talents and a team. If I am using those gifts to mentor others and giving them room to grow, they are going to take all I have and build on that. My job as a leader is to solidify the foundation under their feet so they can be sure-footed. It is not to build walls to cage them or toss water on their fires.
We all need to develop and use our talents to improve the world around us. We also need to help others use and grow theirs. The moment we stifle a talent (whether it is our own or another’s), we hurt the entire team.