Integrate Talent and Heart in Your Leadership

by  Jennifer V. Miller  |  Leadership Development

Little League has finally come to an end for our family this season.  Between watching my son’s  regular-season games and my nephew’s all-star games, we’ve logged some significant bleacher time this spring and summer. It’s a great place to watch the interplay of talent and heart.


Talent—well, that’s all over the field, even in kids as young as nine years of age. It’s amazing to see those little bodies diving for (and catching) balls, hitting home runs and sliding into second base.  Some kids are naturals and others come by it from time spent at expensive indoor “elite” practice fields, but it’s there all the same.


Heart—that shows up too, but in different ways. At our son’s first game this season, the opposing team’s catcher took a hard hit to the hand and was sidelined.  As the one coach helped him off the field, the other coaches convened to figure out whom to put into the game.  From inside the dug-out, we heard a high-pitched voice yell, “Put me in, coach!  I can do it!” That’s heart.

When it comes to leading a team, be it Little League, or Company, leaders need both talent and heart in their players.  The old adage goes, “hire for attitude, train for skill.” Given an ideal workplace scenario, wouldn’t we love all of our employees to have a generous heaping of both heart and talent? This is the real world, though and so I ask you, the Lead Change members:

If you are considering two potential team members, and one is stronger in “heart” and the other is stronger in “talent”—which would you choose?

Photo by Ed Yourdon

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About The Author

Articles By jennifer-miller
Jennifer V. Miller is a leadership development consultant whose writing and digital training materials help business professionals better lead themselves and others towards greater career success.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Benjamin Lichtenwalner  |  21 Jul 2010  |  Reply

As long as there is the prerequisite talent (you would not hire a High School student for most executive positions), heart should win every time. In today’s world of growing social media people want that connection. Customers, employees and followers see through facades and want genuine passion to buy from and follow. Hence, if you want real leadership, you need heart.

Jennifer V. Miller  |  21 Jul 2010  |  Reply


Hi, it’s nice to see a face that’s new to me in the Lead Change group. I would agree that leaders need that “heart”– what about your contributors?

Sonia Di Maulo  |  21 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Very interesting question! While it’s tempting to choose talent, my reason for choosing heart is to help heart discover talent. This is only possible if someone offers heart a chance to show us what she’s got!

Jennifer, your post comes at a critical time for me. My 7-year old son plays soccer with heart. While he is the weakest player on his team, he never missed practices or games. In fact one afternoon he fell asleep right before a soccer game! All our efforts to wake him were unsuccessful. He finally woke up startled, asking what time it was. At this point the game had already begun. He said, “No, I can’t miss the game! The team needs me!” And so we rushed to the game.

My husband and I have been questioning whether he should continue to play because of his lack of talent. But perhaps we should let him continue to play because he has heart. And with our parental leadership and support, the talent will come.

Jennifer V. Miller  |  21 Jul 2010  |  Reply


Thanks for sharing your heartfelt and personal story. How wonderful that your son continues to enjoy the game, even though he’s not the star player! Good for him…what a wise little man you have on your hands :-)

Heath Davis Havlick  |  22 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Most people, except apparently a couple of cut-throat Wall Street companies that recently went down in flames, would hire for heart and then train for skills. The question is, How do you identify heart? it takes more than a resume and an interview to discover who a person really is.

So, I would think a combination of really in-depth situational interviewing and a good pre-hire assessment that measures innate personality would be the best bet for hiring for heart.

Susan Mazza  |  23 Jul 2010  |  Reply

While my gut reaction to the question was heart in thinking about it I believe the best choice would need to be based on what the team needed most to succeed at this time. Sometimes you need more talent. If I were to choose the person with more talent though I would want to make sure there was talent with humility. A “prima donna” can suck the heart right out of a team!

Jennifer V. Miller  |  24 Jul 2010  |  Reply


You raise an excellent point. Granted, I teed up this post with an “either or” type question: heart or talent? However, when I wrote this post, I was thinking about the nuance of these situations. For example, what happens if you have two team members, both who are skilled, but one is sort of a pain (but slightly more talented) and one is slightly less talented, but has a great attitude (lots of heart)? As a team member, I’ve been in this situation….and found that I tended to gravitate to the person with “heart”, even though she made a few more mistakes and needed some extra explaining for the projects.

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