We met 120 leaders from the construction industry. We spent half the morning exploring personal purpose, and half exploring organizational purpose. It was not where they were used to being but the audience was very engaged. At the conclusion a man approached us, introduced himself and asked a few questions. He started out with general questions and gradually became more intimate. Finally he opened his heart.
He said that his life as a student was not pleasant. He did not fit the mold. His strength was in doing things with his body, not sitting and memorizing information. His years in public education taught him that he did not measure up. The most important thing he learned in public school is that he could not learn.
His professional journey started with becoming a welder. He had limited aspirations, yet he did well and new opportunities emerged. He obtained a job in a company with a relatively positive culture and he was grateful. A management job opened up and people felt he was the right candidate. Becoming a leader was not something he had ever imagined. Yet he also had to agree that he was the most logical person for the job.
His professional evolution provided data that challenged his theory of self. He was continually learning and growing. This data required a transformation in his theory of self. He had to recognize both his potential and his ability to realize his potential. People who go through this transformation, acquire one of the key capacities of a leader; Because they now see the potential in themselves, they see potential in everyone.
While in some geographical areas this man’s company was number one among competitors, in his particular area the company was number two. Yet he could see the path to becoming number one. With full authenticity he declared, “I hunger for it, I want our branch to be great, not for me but the people and for our customers. I know it is possible.”
There is much here. First he sees potential for both the collective branch and the people in the branch. Second, he wants the branch to be great, not for his glory, he wants it to be great for the people and for the customers. This means he not only has vision and sees potential, he also has moral power. When we do what we do, not for self-interest, but for the common good, we are able to radiate what the social scientists call idealized influence.
When we have moral power or idealized influence we attract people to our vision and the realization of their own potential. Our friend knew that if the people changed their collective behavior and became a great branch, the individual people would change in the same way he changed. They would stop feeling fear and stop focusing on their own limitations. They would begin to feel hope and start to focus on their possibilities.
From our brief conversation, it was clear that this man had the potential to transform his branch. We were delighted.
Then the central question emerged. He described his employees. They were conventional. All had strengths and flaws, but none of the flaws were fatal. He described some of his efforts to surface real issues or to introduce new initiatives. There was a pattern. The room would go quiet and then in the hallways subgroups would form and buzz about what was wrong with whatever was being proposed.
Instead of being angry with this resistant behavior, the man asked, “How can I get them to talk and share what they really feel?” This question further verified his evolution. He inherently knew that the keys to change are purpose, trust, authentic conversation and emergence of collective belief.
In answering, we asked more questions and then gave illustrations of practices that might bring the result he desired. We shared images that required genuine commitment and courageous action. He understood every point. Instead of recoiling in fear, he explored each possibility. He then said, “Inside me there is steel and I think I have to show it more often.”
This was an inspiring exchange. This man overcame the trauma of his public education and his resulting theory of inadequacy. He became empowered and empowering to others. His selfless purpose was to bring out the potential in others. His desire was so great, he was willing to expose his vulnerability and seek learning from us.
This is unconventional. Positive leaders, driven by a higher purpose, are willing to risk vulnerability to gain learning. There is a principle here. Purpose drives learning and learning enlightens and empowers.
All around us there are people like this man. We have them in our lives. They are the ones who leave the most positive legacy. As we focus on them and observe their efforts, we will see them evolving. They are models of what we all can become.
- Have you ever known anyone like this man and what legacy did the person leave in your life?
- What is potent about see potential in flawed people?
- Why was this man willing to expose his vulnerability?
- How could be use this passage to create a more positive organization?