The Difference Between Performance and Potential

I was leading a training workshop of ambitious managers and executives for a Fortune 100 company recently. One of their top executives provided her story about her meteoric rise up the company hierarchy from immigrant non-English-speaking roots to the corner office. 7 promotions and one lateral move in 20 years. She told her riveted audience that her key to success was her mentoring. Being mentored by other executives who pointed her way through the corporate maze. People who "tapped her on the shoulder"  and pushed her into new opportunities.  Opportunities she did not see for herself. Opportunities that set her up for other moves. She had a plan to advance but learned that it would not be a linear process, but to be open to and trust the advice of others. That her success would be ultimately defined by her ability to perform in these new settings and grow her potential.
Potential of you

She was asked, "How do YOU evaluate potential over performance?" She asserted that performance plays a small part of promotions she gives. Because performance is like the student's high GPA for admission to highly selective universities. Performance is a starting point, a given, a pre-requisite to be eligible to even be considered for a promotion. All of this follows the PIE research. According to her, potential is what executives look for. Mentors and sponsors look for potential amongst the high performers.

But she gave this poignant example: "I am currently evaluating my top managers. Two of them are in the top 10% of performers. They received among the highest scores for their performance reviews. The third one barely scored in the 50 percentile range of performance for the year. But this is the one I will mentor. This one has way more potential than the other two. I predict this is the one who will go the furthest at our company."

You could hear an audible gasp from the group. 

As you might imagine this triggered quite a robust conversation. People in huge orgs with steep hierarchies of classifications and pecking orders expect performance metrics to determine everything. That advancement should be predictable based on these quantifiable measures. But we learn that the straight A students are not guaranteed anything. That leadership, persuasion, and creativity can not be reduced to numbers. Experienced executives see potential. The potential that is revealed not by ambition but by life values, passion, energy, curiosity, critical thinking, and managing up.  Often your potential can be easily seen by others. A potential that you can neglect and forget about. 

Your visible potential is your mentoring potential. Are you mentorable

The teacher appears when the student is ready.

The point is working on your potential is as important as your performance. How do you do that?
Potential bigger

By fully engaging yourself in your work, not just what is required, but what is interesting to you and helpful to your employer. I know you work hard and I know you are busy and tired. I am talking about separating yourself from the parade of the competent and the smart. Your superiors see if you are fully engaged. They see if you are acting like you are promotable–not just saying it. Are you wholeheartedly engaged in your career? The answer is how your potential looks.

Connect with your mentors and ask them about your potential. What do they see? Do you really want to know? Really? Are you ready to work on your potential? Don't think that your potential is innate like your eye color, an unchangeable part of your DNA, something you have no control over. That is the lazy and easy way out. Be honest–people have a limited and often a skewed view of your talents, your genius, your possibilities. How many times at work have you said, "If only I was given the chance to………." 

You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.   Jack London

Your potential is waiting to be seen by others, but first by you. 

Thanks for reading. John

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