Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Ultimate Discovery: Undeveloped Potential

“We’re tied with straw and think it’s chain.” Danny Cox

I was the new manager of the company’s top office out of thirty-six offices. Three months later we were thirty-sixth and all because I made a common managerial mistake––trying to get everyone to be like me. And my boss was looking for my replacement!

Somerset Maugham, the great English author, once said, “Adversity puts iron in your flesh.” Another one of my favorite authors, a man by the name of Orison Swett Marden, said, “Adversity sometimes strips a person, only to discover the person.” Well, through adversity I discovered quite a lot about my self. I went back to square one and started learning not only about my own potential, but also about the potential of the people who worked for me. And the biggest lesson I learned was that salespeople can get better––right after the sales manager does.

There are universal applications in that principle. Employees get better right after managers do. Kids get better right after parents do. Students get better right after teachers do. Audiences get better right after speakers do. Customers get better right after salespeople, sales managers, upper management, receptionists, secretaries, order clerks, and anybody else who happens to be in the company get better. That’s a lesson we often learn the hard way, through adversity.

It turned out that I didn’t lose my job. I started studying and listening to the people who worked for me, and I stopped trying to turn them into reproductions of myself. I started encouraging a more creative approach to the problems we faced. And 120 days later, we were back up to Number One.

That was a moment to be savored, not only because of the sense of achievement, but because it would then be possible to ease off a bit and relax after that incredible climb back to Number One. Or so I thought. There’s a certain danger in taking that kind of attitude. If I had hung on to it, you know what would have happened, don’t you? Our sales would have plateaued back out and you’d be reading a book by some other author, not me!

Well, my salespeople and I started talking about this phenomenon. It can happen to anybody working in any job at any level: When you get to a certain way of doing your job, it’s tempting to just quit getting better at it. That is what is called a self-imposed barrier.

Nobody builds a self-imposed barrier for you. You build it for yourself. A self-imposed barrier is not a wall around your life; it’s just the margin of your life. It’s the dividing line between developed potential and undeveloped potential. It marks the spot where you’ve stopped growing. These barriers can rise up at just about any level, whether it’s low, medium, or even high productivity!

Immediate Action:
Think of a time when you’ve told someone––perhaps a friend or family member––“Come on. You can do better than that.” Did you ever hear that person reply, “No, I can’t––I’ve never done this job better than that.” The truth is, that’s not a reason. That’s not even a good excuse. It’s only the flag atop the so-called barrier. It shows where the new potential starts.

Point to Ponder Before You Go On: Phillips Brooks, the minister who wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” had a powerful thought: “When you discover you’ve been leading only half a life, the other half is going to haunt you until you develop it.” He was absolutely right!
No-limits thinking is the kind of thinking that’s dedicated to finding a way to live a full life––so that the unexplored half of your identity, the half you can develop but don’t, doesn’t come back to haunt you.

Go ahead! Pull the trigger and ride the bullet!