Have you ever been told “you’ve got so much potential?” I have. Plenty of times.
At first it feels like a compliment. It feels like there’s someone else that recognises something in you that you can’t see in yourself.
It can feel nurturing and make you want to lift your game.
But there’s a downside because being told you have potential implies that you could be more than you are today.
You’re not as good as you could be. Not today anyway. Maybe tomorrow, but not today.
Being told you have potential can set up a lack of self-belief that sounds like this: “If I have so much potential, why is it that I’m not doing better? There must be something wrong with me.”
So, before you tell your kids or colleagues they have potential, ask yourself what you mean by the word potential. Instead of using such a vague term, get specific.
And be clear about what it is that you’re attempting to achieve.
Are you trying to highlight the gulf between your expectations and their performance? If so, tell them.
“John, your sales target was $100,000 and you achieved $70,000. This isn’t acceptable. Why do you think you missed the target?”
Are you trying to be encouraging? Mention something specific they’ve done well.
“John, I was listening to the way you handled the call to Mrs Jones. You showed a great deal of empathy and your use of questions resulted in a sales appointment. Well done.”
Are you trying to get them to improve their performance? Highlight one of their wins then ask them what they learned and how they could have done it even better.
“John, you wrote over your sale target last month. That’s a great result. Tell me, what do you think lead to this result? What will you do next month to build on that performance?”
Helping people in this way gets them to take ownership of their current reality. It then puts them in control of creating a roadmap for their own personal growth.