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Having Potential (#119)

Much of our motivation in life is driven by two feelings that are often at different ends of the emotional spectrum: inspiration and discomfort.

This week, the focus is on discomfort.

A few months ago, a friend of mine spoke to a group and imparted some harsh but salient wisdom that stuck with me. He said, “When you are ten, potential is cute. When you are 20, it’s nice. But by the time you get to 40, it starts to become an insult.”

While this can be painful for some to hear, I think there’s a lot of truth in his words. Here are two definitions of potential, courtesy of the Oxford dictionary:

Adjective: Having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.

Noun: Latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.

Based on these definitions, it makes sense to refer to something as having potential when it’s early in its lifecycle, be it a person, product or organization.

However, as time goes on, using that same phrase moves from something inspiring to something that becomes a crutch to, eventually, an insult.

Don’t believe me? Tell a mom or dad of a 15-year-old that they have the potential to be a great parent and see how they react.

It’s not that a person who has been dabbling in something for 10-20 years without success doesn’t have potential. What’s more likely is that they lack the talent or the conviction to convert that potential into something meaningful.

For instance, when an entrepreneur talks about the potential of their product yet, and it’s been a decade or more since it’s generated any meaningful sales, they are fooling themselves.

The same goes for an organization that’s been doing essentially the thing for ten years and getting the same results. Saying they have “potential” is no longer the right word to use.

Indeed, potential has an expiration date.

Ultimately, we need to decide where we want to convert our potential into achievement. These will likely be areas in your life that are most important to you, not what others decide are most important or valuable.

The question to think about in your own life or organization is, where in the future would it be an insult to look back and hear that you had had potential?

I have asked myself this very question. At no point in my life do I want to look back and feel that I had the potential to be or do better – as a father, a husband or a leader in my business – and not lived up to it.

With that in mind, pretend it’s five years from now and ask yourself the following:

  • Where would I not want to be told I had potential in my business (either overall or for a product)?
  • Where would I not want to be told I had potential in my family and personal life?
  • Where would I be really upset to hear that I had the potential to be an X?

If you’re not on track to live up to your potential in any of these areas, then go do something about it.

Don’t be someone who had potential. Be someone who acted on their potential.

Quote of Week

 “There is no heavier burden than an unfulfilled potential.”

Charles Schulz

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Management Principle: True Leaders

What are the beliefs and the behaviors of true leaders? With so many people articulating different views, it’s hard to decipher a universal model upon which everyone would agree.

Some people believe in the “end-justifies-the-means” approach suggested by the likes of Niccolo Machiavelli, author of “The Prince,” while others relate to the more servant-leader approach articulated by Jim Collins’ in his book, “Good to Great.” We could easily move to a debate about what’s ethical versus effective, and totally miss the fact that all leaders work with human beings who possess the facilities of mind, will and emotions, rather than the hoped-for robots that respond to commands with precise execution and blind obedience.

The bottom line is this: those leaders who focus on winning the active support of those they lead, utilizing wholesome influence skills, historically have better results than those who use the coercive, stern discipline approach, supported by shame and humiliation, to get people to act. Anyone I know, if asked to choose between William Wallace and Adolph Hitler to be their leader, would align with William Wallace based on his ability to lead from the front and inspire his people, and, whose dedication and love for his men were clearly known and demonstrated. So what guidance does this provide for us in our quest to become true leaders?

True and good leaders are those who have the ability and energy to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves, while focusing on the welfare of those under their charge, leaving their own personal concerns and desires for last. This choice and lifestyle is professional behavior, and not something one arrives at easily–anything less than this is something other than true leadership. If our motive for becoming a leader is rooted in a desire for power and/or money (cast as “career growth”), we will likely harm our people and the overall cause, doing ourselves no good in the end. The proper motivation for leadership is rooted in the discipline of service. And, while we may fool ourselves regarding our true motives and desires, they will be crystal clear to everyone else.

Here is a good prescription to follow, to make sure we are walking down the right path.

1- Do justice. Do right by the company and its clients, as well as your staff. When there are tensions between any of these constituencies, ask yourself the question: What creates a fair, win-win for all concerned? Don’t be satisfied with anything less. If someone is misbehaving in some way, violating the principle of justice, move toward them in a spirit of wholesome conflict and stand strong. Follow the principles of justice and fairness.True Leaders

2- Love mercy. The way to get people to act as a volunteers, and serve with a whole heart, is to adopt a development mindset and avoid being accusational or judgmental. Being judgmental harms people, regardless of your intention. Most people are eager to learn when given a true opportunity in a safe environment. Just because someone can’t read your mind doesn’t mean they are intentionally trying to make your life hard.

3- Walk humbly. The egotistical leader is a total turnoff to almost all followers. For those who embrace the narcissistic model, people will bemoan their leadership. Don’t assume that you are exempt from this pitfall. We can’t see pride in the mirror. If you’ve made it about you (put yourself in the center) and fail to truly serve your people with whatever degree of power you have, you’ll never have the respect and therefore the sacrificial volunteerism of your people. If you make it about them, versus making it about you, they’ll follow you forever.

Coaching questions: Where might you need to grow in your own motivations and therefore in your leadership skill? Who can help you to manage that growth and provide accountabilities for your success? Write your answers in your journal.

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.

Changing Lives with Powerful Questions

Today, I listened to a great presentation by Tal Ben-Shahar who teaches positive psychology at Harvard University. Interestingly, his 2 courses have been rated the most popular in the university. No wonder, he is so motivating.

The message he delivered was that if you want to change the reality of people’s lives then you need to change the questions you ask them. The right questions can change people’s lives. This is when miracles happen.

Think about when your life changed or you made a major change in your life. Was it because someone asked you a great question? Very often it is. I know many of my significant life choices have been prompted by a great question. Furthermore, I remember the people who asked me these life changing questions.

How do you ask these life changing questions, or what we call in our business powerful questions? They must be positive or what is often referred to as appreciative. Always come from a positive angle or the person’s strength, regardless of what the situation is.

If you want to be more structured or scientific about it, then you can have the person complete a behavioral profile first. Then you know their areas of strengths and interests to which the questions can be directed.

The same approach can be followed with a person in any area of your life: whether it be clients, team mates or family members.