What is extraordinary talent?

I’ve been sharing plenty of content from last week’s Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. Hope you don’t mind. I figure, if you have the premiere gathering of women leaders plus Warren Buffett at an historic moment, why not mine it for all it’s worth? Which is quite a lot. Though the Summit content is off the record, some panelists told me I can pass on highlights to you. During a session called Developing Extraordinary Talent, I really liked the panelists’ answers to this basic question that came from the audience: “How do you define extraordinary talent?”

Susan Arnold, president of global business units at Procter & Gamble and No. 7 on Fortune’s 2008 Most Powerful Women list, said: “They’re owners. They treat the business like they own it. They’re leaders. They create a vision and lead people in that direction. They consistently deliver above expectations. They deliver. They deliver. They deliver. They create great organization that can deliver without them.”

Ursula Burns, president of Xerox and No. 10 on Fortune’s list, said: “They’re people who can learn and have flexibility. They’re fearless. They make a decision, and when they find out it’s not right, they change and get on with it. They pick great people. They’re patient. They realize that the problems of today weren’t created today and won’t be necessarily solved today. Among those four characteristics, the one I look for most of all is fearlessness.”

Lorrie Norrington, president of eBay Marketplaces and No. 46 on Fortune’s Power 50 list, said: “The only thing I would add is optimism. Especially today, in this environment, you have to be an eternal optimist.”

“I agree,” replied Burns, repeating, “I agree. I agree.” Indeed, in this chaotic environment, optimism — not blind denial, but optimism that breeds confidence — helps leaders stay focused. Norrington, who spent 20 years at General Electric before moving to Intuit and then eBay, particularly needs optimism since eBay stock is trading at a six-year-low. Norrington’s mission, she said: “Transformation.”

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