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The Myth of Potential

April 20, 2012

The Myth of Potential
Mike Myatt

Here’s the thing – we all have potential, maybe some more than others, but we all have it. Potential is easy to recognize, but not so easy to realize. Most of us intrinsically recognize the gift of potential, but many simply choose to do nothing about it, and sadly, it’s the rare few who will maximize their potential. The problem with potential is society has deemed it to be a fungible commodity. People in today’s world trade on potential as if it were performance – it’s not.

Most people are fed a steady diet of potential from the moment they’re born. Parents, teachers, coaches, and eventually employers all contribute to the problem by overrating potential as a certain predictor of future performance. Potential affords no surety of outcome; it merely offers hope. While hope can clearly serve as an inspiration, it can also quite easily become a delusion. Leaders would be well advised to place less stock in potential and focus their attention on effort and outcome.

Ability and aptitude are only gifts if understood and used. The cold hard truth is you’re not special because of your potential, you’re special because of your dogged pursuit of your potential, and you’re even more special when you achieve your potential. Don’t tell others how gifted you are, provide them with tangible evidence you know how to use your giftedness – show them.

The world is awash in a dearth of potential. We don’t need more potential. We should not be starved for potential leaders, but we should be very, very hungry for real leaders. Leaders should recognize and acknowledge the unique potential in everyone, but avoid actions which create rewards based solely on the existence of potential. Smart leaders are much more interested in high character, high achievement, high engagement, and high performance than high potential. Reward performance not potential.

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