Identifying and Nourishing Potential

When in power, pay it forward. In the words of Patty Azzarello, “effective leaders win people over by building an environment of trust and respect”. Paying it forward is a simple act that does not require much work on your part, but it will enable brilliant staff to rise to their potential and shine. Treat those in your department with fairness, dignity, firmness and respect. Leave your ego at the door and expect those who work under you to do the same. Early in the management period, you should embody the ethos of the person who made a difference for you by growing tomorrow’s leaders. Power is not a privilege but a duty, and I believe that having power is about enabling the full potential in others. Identify staff with potential and nourish them so that they too may someday become valuable managers within in the company.

In my experience, some staff work better than others, and I believe that as a manager you should be actively identifying good staff within your department or team. While investing in the right staff will maximise a company’s returns, identifying and nourishing your best staff is also about enabling them to develop their careers and make greater contributions to the company. It is your duty to oversee how your staff takes your direction and creates a plan of action, and this allows you to identify which staff have the most potential.

Pressure and power are effective ways in which I test this potential. It is well known that “90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control”. Pressure has a direct link to performance, and I have seen that performance peaks when the staff is under pressure. I put pressure on the staff member by assigning them many tasks or by entrusting them to make important decisions. Excite them by giving them something that will challenge them and push them to do their best. Keep communication active between you and your staff and gauge how well they are performing under pressure.

When the staff successfully passes this test, I then give them power by, for example, allowing them to make decisions on my behalf. Watch and gauge if this power is reflecting responsibility in them and see how they are managing the power. Since power is an extraordinary asset, those in power may develop a chip on the shoulder, or suddenly demand respect from others on their team. Many are sensitive to threats to their power, and respond in self-interested ways to protect that power. When this happens, it tells me that the staff has reached breaking point and is unable to effectively manage power. Instead, your staff should make their power work for them and create an atmosphere of mutual trust, respect and teamwork, so that other team members will come to see them as a leader.

If the staff is doing well and has passed both tests, then you can put together a development plan for them. This is all about supporting your team, just as you expect them to support you. In senior management, you have the responsibility to support your staff and drive them to do their best work. I encourage you to enable the full potential of your staff and constantly test them to prepare them for the next likely step of their career.