How Do We Enable Greatness In People?

Great Wall of China Sunset


How many times have I heard stories in my coaching and recruiting career from people about being pushed down in their jobs by their leaders? Every single day.

Even over the last two days I have coached two different people who tell me discreetly about the anxiety and frustration of not being able to stretch their natural abilities or even the abilities they were supposedly hired for in the first place.

Have you ever been in the situation where a superior, your boss, your department leader, does everything she or he can do to push you down, hamper your growth, not even give you a ‘thank you’ for a job well done? All I can say is this is a phenomenon I hear about day after day. And it needs to stop because it hurts everyone, especially the company. Leaders like these might not even realize their own behaviour, a behaviour that’s often largely based on fear of being outshone. But it is true, as the late Steve Jobs said, great leaders surround themselves with people smarter than them, an idea, if taken to heart, can revolutionize companies. Why kill talent and the potential for exponential growth in energy, ideas, and competency? When people are recognized for their good work and skills, they will do even better work and lift you up, as a leader and a company. They can grow themselves and you in ways that will never happen if they aren’t enabled. If you water your plants in your office, why are you neglecting to feed your people?

Leaders have a lot of power over their people and teams. As a leader, you might not even realize how much power you have over the hearts and minds of those working for you and on your behalf. My experience in this regard is a simple experience: when you enable people, encourage them, recognize them, you can turn them from good to great, from star to superstar. Usually it doesn’t take much to power up your team by being the kind of leader who enables people. Anything else and you are disabling people in all sorts of ways, from making them speak up less for fear of their ideas being shot down, making them dread coming to work, filling them with anxiety when they do, and making them feel aimless and depressed. Over time, this works on anyone, and it’s toxic. If you have gone a long time in your job without being recognized, by being seen as a cost centre and not a profit centre, with your leaders not even really knowing what you do, you will slowly become less engaged and ultimately not feel good about your contributions, the company, or yourself.

Being given a chance is a big thing. Being recognized in the smallest ways is a big thing. There are so many talented people who get overlooked, or, to put it another way, don’t become truly great until they are looked at, seen, and appreciated for their talents. If you think people don’t need this, that they should just do their job, you are wrong. If you enable your people then it’s as though the talented person explodes with talent, energy and purpose. Everyone needs someone to believe in them. And shouldn’t this be the true value of any leader, that they believe in those she or he leads, and in leading them makes them feel like their contributions matter? Really great and smart leaders take this a step further and create leaders from within, empowering them and their skill sets.

Without the help of others who see you as part of a greater vision it’s hard to unleash your potential. Bureaucracies, they say, generally create mediocrities out of potential stars. It’s a phenomenon I see and hear about from my coaching clients all of the time.

Why is this? Or why do we structure our company realities in ways that push talent down, or under-appreciate the power of potential in everyone within organizations? Everyone is in the people business first and foremost. Yet we hire for positions and forget that people are more than their job descriptions; it’s not a natural way to think, and not the best way to let true genius flourish. Stop watering your plant for a week and see what happens.

I’m talking about empowering people in word and action. It’s almost that simple.

I was given a book recently that I probably wouldn’t ordinarily read, and I’m glad I did. It’s the most engrossing book I’ve read in awhile. Albert Speer’s Memoirs.

Albert Speer’s Memoirs is a warning and a page turner, and I highly recommend it as an important book for understanding WWII and leadership. In reading it I found this nugget of insight, also referred to by Speer’s biographer, Gitta Sereny. She put it this way: ”Speer didn’t become an architect until he met Adolf Hitler”, in other words, only when Speer was recognized for his talents, given the responsibility to lead and create the largest construction project the world had ever seen. It was then that Speer aspired to greatness in architecture. Before the war, he was a run-of-the-mill architect working on mundane, mediocre and forgettable projects. Unrecognized. Aimless. On his own, Speer was a competent architect, though obscure. When he was recognized for his genius and given free reign to bring his architectural vision to life, he did, and it was on a colossal scale that shocks with its magnitude and power even today.

How many times has this happened to you? Or how many times have you read or heard of stories of enablers or disablers in your work life? We find this happens in our personal relationships, too. My advice for leaders is to enable. My advice for careerists is look for enablers and don’t settle for less. You don’t want to spend your days twirling your hair or pen, wasting your talents under someone who doesn’t or won’t appreciate what you can do for them.

I would love to hear your similar stories and experiences and comments on this question. Write me here. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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