Potential. It's easy to spot in others, but hard to see in ourselves. It's something we all have, but not all of us achieve. It's a concept that, when harnessed, yields tangible results.
For this reason, many leaders have made hiring decisions based on potential alone. But, according to a survey by the Talent Strategy Group, leadership's predictions about a candidate's potential are only accurate about half of the time.
That's why, according to Emplify chief people officer Adam Weber, unlocking potential is one of the most important tasks a leader can have. It's an idea Weber explores at length in his forthcoming book Lead Like a Human.
"[People] need leaders who have vision and conviction to encourage them during stretching moments of radical growth," Weber writes. "And I'm not talking about just while they're at work. They need someone who sees them as a human and not just a cog in a larger organizational machine."
To get more perspective, I caught up with Weber to discuss practical steps from his book that leaders can take to maximize their people's potential.
Connect their work to the organization's purpose
The modern workforce values purpose above a paycheck. People want to feel connected to something bigger than themselves--something making a difference in the world.
"Studies have shown that when a purpose inspires employees, they are willing to give up to 40 percent of their discretionary time to their company," said Weber.
According to Weber, one sure-fire way to unlock people's potential is connecting the work they do every day to the organization's mission. Archiving and sharing success stories, especially positive customer reviews, can help people see how their contributions are advancing the organization's purpose.
Managers can take this a step further by creating a purpose statement for their team that maps back to the greater organizational purpose.
"When a purpose is clear and unique, it gives your people a direction to follow. It helps them know why they're doing what they're doing," Weber said. "It should be aspirational in a way that captures employees' hearts yet simple enough that they can wrap their heads around it to know how it affects the work they do with their hands."
Help employees set goals
"One of the biggest mistakes managers make is assuming what motivates them also motivates their employees," Weber said.
To discover what motivates employees, Weber advises helping people set thoughtful goals.
"By creating manageable goals, they know their work is connected to a bigger achievement," Weber continued.
Goals should be authentic to each individual, and can bridge the gap between "personal" and "professional." One example Weber offers is a sales rep who set a goal of taking his family to Disney World. This mapped back to a larger, personal goal of spending more time with his wife and kids, but had professional implications, as he would need to increase his sales volume to save up for a Disney vacation.
Once someone has set a meaningful goal, the role of the leader is to help the individual map out a plan to achieve it. This includes breaking it down into measurable objectives and helping identify blockers that might get in the way. Once the plan is under way, leaders should then provide accountability by routinely checking in on goal progression.
Create safe spaces for people to bring their full selves to work
According to Harvard Business School professor Laura Huang, the phrase "be yourself" isn't great advice, because it fails to recognize human beings as complex and multifaceted. The goal for leaders is to create spaces where people can "be all of their selves" at work.
Weber says the first step for leaders is modeling authenticity themselves. But to be authentic to who they are, leaders must first understand their own "internal operating system"--the strengths, weaknesses, opinions, attitudes, and beliefs that motivate their behavior. Weber encourages leaders to get to know themselves better by creating a self-reflection habit.
"Taking a long, hard look in the mirror might be painful, but it's an essential step toward unlocking your own great potential," Weber said.
Potential--be it your own or that of your employees--is an organization's precious resource. When people's true potential is unleashed, it can yield incredible results--for themselves and for the organizations that employ them.