Do your people have the potential to succeed?

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Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

Here we explore notions of potential. In the next post we’ll return to look again at coaching skills more generally.

potentialDo the people in your team have the potential to perform at the level you need them to or that they would like to?

Can you prove it?

Whatever your answer to the first question, I’ll bet you answered ‘no’ to the second.

Human potential (and indeed human nature) cannot be proven and so we are left to take a view. In other words, we must choose a philosophy of human potential. Some mangers take a rather negative view of people’s potential and suggest that it is deployed at work only in response to threat or reward and then only to the degree necessary to keep out of trouble. Others take a less jaundiced view and opt to see potential as limitless given appropriate support and guidance. I don’t know which view is right or wrong and I have no interest in finding out. I do however know which view offers the most possibilities and so I choose to make the positive philosophical choice and would encourage you to do likewise.

In so far as high quality thinking, and self-prompted action is encouraged when negative, limiting assumptions are removed in the process of coaching, a positive view of potential has to be adopted before anything else can happen. This philosophy has proven time and again to be the best one from which to free the mind to think clearly, creatively and in the best interests of self, team and organization. Ideas and actions flow more dependably from this philosophy than from a more neutral or cynical one.

Most people at work function at levels well below that of their potential. At the leaving celebration for the manager’s PA I wrote about in the article on Responsibility, we found out that she worked as a volunteer for the Samaritans (a charitable support organization offering phone support to depressed and lonely people). This was hard to reconcile to the old grump we saw every day at work, but the potential to behave as a warm and considerate person was clearly always there, it just wasn’t being cultivated in the work situation. Many people are just not given an opportunity to reach their potential and in the face of such interference become accustomed to just doing enough.

Sometimes a crisis draws potential out. A manufacturing business I worked with claimed that their people were already doing all they could to get the product out of the door as fast as they could. They would love to achieve more and process orders faster, but there was just no capacity left. One day a major customer of theirs threatened to take his business elsewhere unless an order could be fulfilled by the end of that week. The entire staff got together and found new ways to speed up production and strip out needless processes. The order was fulfilled and the day was saved. The potential to perform at this level was always there it just needed a crisis to bring it out. Coaching helps us tap into this potential without turning every working day into an emergency.



Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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