F. W. Woolworth worked at a dry goods store early in his career and was not allowed to wait on customers because his boss said he lacked the sense needed to do so. Many of you may know that he became of the most successful department store owners in the U.S. Someone, at some time, believed he had enough business savvy to support him in his quest to begin to build the Woolworth empire.
Oprah Winfrey suffered an abusive childhood and a firing from her first job as a TV reporter because someone thought she was unfit for television. Someone believed in her to make her the media mogul she is today.
Soichiro Honda was rejected by Toyota for an engineering position. After a lengthy period of unemployment, he started making motor scooters out of his home with the support of his neighbors, eventually building the large Honda company we’re familiar with.
While these stories illustrate individual perseverance, they also illustrate someone behind the scenes who didn’t realize the untapped potential in these people – and someone else who believed in and supported them to become the extremely successful and well known business managers they became.
Their stories play out in a different way in organizations all the time: an employee is suffering severe criticism from their manager. Nothing this employee does seems right; his self-esteem begins to slip and either he languishes, untapped, in a job that isn’t challenging or interesting to him or his manager tells him to find another job, and quickly.
When that employee moves on to another position, they become a superstar. More often than not, they have a new manager and others around them who believe in and support them.
Consider someone you’ve written off as lacking potential. What if you could change your mind set about that person from useless to seeing their potential? What if by doing so, you could help them to become a superstar in your organization?
Open up to seeing what you haven’t yet: This is the hardest part of the process. When we see someone as lacking, it’s difficult to imagine that there is potential “behind the curtain”. Look hard. What are you seeing them get engaged in (everyone has something that motivates them)? What do you see them doing well (everyone has something they do well)? How can they use what engages them and/or what they do well ?
Let them know what you see: Letting them know what you’ve observed is the first step in supporting them and helping them to use their strengths more deliberately. Ask them, “what is it about this that engages and stimulates you? How are you using that your talent in your position now? How might you use more of it?
Act on it: Take away the barriers to helping them to use their talent. Ask what’s keeping them from using their strengths more. Support them, see them as something new and fresh, as someone who has great potential to be so much more than they are now. Coach them to get even better. Be prepared to let them fly away to another job where they can fully realize all they have to offer!
What possibilities are you seeing in those you’ve written off? How can you believe in and support them?