"At the end of the day, the more we can take in and give out positive messages, the more we will be able to believe in ourselves and in those around us."
I love a well told inspirational story. I love to root for the unsung hero and imagine how I might tackle similar challenges. I love delving into the psychological backstory and reflecting on questions that challenge my complacency about who I am and what I stand for. If this sounds like you then you will love how Patrick Sweeney weaves all these elements together as he tells the story of Herb Greenberg, a highly successful teacher and entrepreneur, in What You Aren’t Seeing: How Using Your Hidden Potential Can Help You Discover the Leader Within.
In Sweeney’s words, “This book was created to share insights from Herb’s inspiring story, with the goal of helping you realize your own leadership potential, uncover the potential of those around you, and see a new world of possibilities.” The book examines 18 different leadership traits including empathy, confidence, trust, resilience, courage, grit, persuasiveness, risk-taking and more, using Herb’s story to showcase those traits in action. It is masterfully written and totally engaging from the opening words of the preface through to the closing words of the conclusion.
The Big Idea
Potential Trumps Experience
"What matters most is what someone can do, not what they have done. Don’t let the past limit you or anyone around you."
Attention recruiters, HR professionals and hiring managers. You need to take this The Big Idea to heart. As a mom who witnessed the frustration of a recent grad trying to break into the job market, I can say without reservation (nor motherly bias) that this is true. Resumes chronicle work history and experience; they ask candidates to sell themselves on what they have done, not what they believe they are capable of doing. Many interview questions also delve into past performance rather than looking to the future. And yet, as Tom Garland (former president of Avis Budget Group North America) rightfully notes, “You have to keep in mind that you are hiring someone for a certain position, but you are also hiring that individual for the future.” So, what you really want to determine is whether a job applicant has the potential to grow with your company and contribute in new and different ways over time!
You might be thinking, that sounds good in theory but it’s too risky for my organization. And yet, Herb’s company Caliper helped over 4,000 ‘hard core’ unemployed individuals move from welfare to work for the first time in their lives with a termination rate of under 3% after two years. That’s a pretty impressive endorsement of potential over experience. As for my son, who has untapped potential in abundance, he finally secured employment with a company that seems to value his passion for his field and is willing to train for the technical requirements. That’s a win-win situation bursting with potential!
How might your over-reliance on proven experience be limiting your potential and that of those around you? Insights 1 & 2 may help you change your focus.
Just a Little Better
"I understood that he meant that I had to be as good as I possibly could, to keep pushing, to keep trying, to keep stretching…to show them that I could surpass their expectations."
In a world that often overvalues BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals), home runs, grand slams and overnight success stories (which never happen overnight), the simplicity of striving to be ‘just a little better’ may, at first glance, appear to be an excuse to hold back. One simply has to recall the power of compound interest to appreciate that striving to be ‘just a little better’ each day will yield significant results over time. One more push-up, one more phone call, a little less talking and more listening, a 1% increase in sales completions. Incremental change is usually much easier to both embrace and sustain than an ‘all or nothing’ approach.
The other lesson here is that you should focus on personal development and growth. You are trying to be a better you, not to beat the competition, outshine your team mates or out-perform another division in your organization. In athletic lingo, you are striving for a PB (a personal best).
I think the intrinsic satisfaction that comes with improving your game and continually achieving PBs is ultimately more fulfilling than the fleeting glory that comes with besting an opponent at any one particular moment in time. And I believe it develops a resiliency that spills over into other areas of your life. Of course, PBs don’t happen simply because we embrace a philosophy of incremental change and small improvements. PBs happen because we devote time to practicing that skill.
What are You Practicing?
"Musicians have a saying that if you don’t practice for one day, you’ll notice. If you don’t practice for a second day, other musicians will notice. And if you don’t practice for a week, the audience will notice."
I smiled when I read this quote and I don’t think you have to be a musician to appreciate the truth and wisdom contained within it. We’ve all used expressions that mirror these sentiments: “I feel a little rusty today”, “I’m having an off day” or “I guess I’m not firing on all cylinders”. Usually these statements pertain to something we haven’t done in a while, something we haven’t been practicing.
Whether or not there’s any validity for the assertion that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a given field, I think we can all agree that there are no gains or improvements without practice. Athletes, master chefs and motivational speakers all spend an inordinate amount of time practicing both the fundamentals of their craft and executing those fundamentals in ways that simulate real life situations. Even children experience the benefits of additional practice time. If it works for them, it will work for you too!
What skills do you need to practice regularly in order to take your competency and expertise to the next level? Are you doing everything you can to keep your skills in peak condition?
Herb Greenberg achieved some amazing things because of his unwavering belief in his own potential and the potential of those he sought to help. He focused on becoming the best person he could be by striving to be just a little bit better each day, and by practicing the skills he needed to succeed in his chosen field. Now it’s your turn.
Pick one thing in your work or personal life where you want to excel and deliberately focus on being just ‘a little bit better’ each time you perform that task. Set aside some time every day to practice that skill. Identify one or two ways you can track your progress and celebrate the PBs you achieve along the way.
And, try to look beyond someone’s resume and what they’ve done thus far in their life (or job). Consider what untapped potential lies within them. You may just be surprised by What You Aren’t Seeing!
When have you been surprised by someone’s potential?