The Best Boss: Seeing More than meets the eye
My dad, who will be 95 this summer, was the 9th of 10 children growing up and living through the great depression in Hampton, Virginia. He attended the University of Virginia for both College and Medical School before being shipped off to Okinawa during World War II.
After the war, he settled in Baltimore where he practiced pediatrics for 47 years. I once asked him, “How did you get the idea to be a doctor?” He told me about a science teacher he had in 10th grade who took a particular interest in him.
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This teacher took my father aside and said, “You know, I’ve been watching your work in my class and I think you have real ability in science. If you wanted to, you could be a doctor.” That was the first time he ever thought about this possibility. It became his life’s work and a blessing to many people’s lives over the years. It was this teacher’s vision for my father that allowed him to consider a path other than the one he was expected to follow—to work for his older brothers in the family grocery store.
As leaders, we have the potential to affect people’s lives in ways that others often don’t. One of the most powerful things we can do is to see more in a person than they are currently showing us.
Most people have been criticized and compared to other people since they could walk or talk. Teachers, parents, siblings and peers have shaped and probably limited their belief in their own greatness. As employees, it’s not surprising that many carry doubts about their worth, their abilities, their intelligence or their potential despite their achievements.
The most ideal employment situation is one in which you work for a person whom you admire and respect who thinks you are terrific. It doesn’t get any better than that as an employee. This is where seeing a person’s potential and appealing to their highest self can have a dramatic effect on their behavior, their performance and their ability to lead others.
Our seeing greatness in them allows them to believe in themselves, tentatively at first but after some experience, if they come to believe that what we see is true, they will often “draft up” into our vision of what we saw was possible.
This happens most rapidly when we check our own tendency to enable those around us. If we do their critical thinking and their work for them we are sending a mixed message about their capabilities. If our actions are consistent with what we see in them, we will give them the space to demonstrate what we are talking about.
It doesn’t always happen this way, of course. But the best chance of having great people around you is to see and believe in their greatness before they do. Make it a habit to see more in everyone than they are currently showing you. You might be surprised by what they can deliver.
How about you? Who recognized your potential before you knew you had it? I’d love to hear about it.