Staggering Potential Left Untapped

Robert Quinn Posted by Robert Quinn.

Robert E. Quinn holds the Margaret Elliot Tracey Collegiate Professorship at the University of Michigan and serves on the faculty of Organization and Management at the Ross Business School. He is one of the co-founders and the current faculty co-director of the Center for Positive Organizations.


Staggering Potential Left Untapped

This is excerpted from Chapter 13 of Lift, 2nd Edition.

Shawn Quinn (Bob’s son and Ryan’s brother) once worked with a woman who told him a story about a project that she was assigned to lead. The project was important to the work of the organization, and required a team with members of different units from within it. However, when Shawn’s colleague went to the different units to recruit team members, the unit managers only let her select team members from their “mediocre” employees because they could not afford to lose their best employees.

Shawn’s colleague was nervous about this situation. How could she succeed on such an important project with only mediocre employees on her team? However, these mediocre employees surprised and delighted her in every way, delivering a fantastic project. The outcome of the project was wonderful, but the question that Shawn’s colleague was left to ponder was quite disturbing: How many of the employees that the organization’s performance management system labeled as mediocre had the potential to be exceptional, and how much of this potential was her company leaving untapped?

Our experience is that organizations, communities, and even families leave a staggering amount of human potential untapped. But one of the benefits of studying, teaching, and applying the fundamental state of leadership is that we also get to see and experience moments of human potential that leave us feeling awe. When we see and experience these moments, we feel like John Gillespie Magee Jr. felt when he wrote the poem “High Flight.” These are moments in which we “[slip] the surly bonds of earth . . . with silent, lifting mind.” Our work as researchers, teachers, consultants, and entrepreneurs is focused on helping people, organizations, communities, and families achieve this kind of untapped potential, particularly by helping them learn to apply— and applying ourselves— the fundamental state of leadership.

Do you feel like you've ever been under-estimated, labeled as mediocre when it wasn't true?  Have you ever been guilty of underestimating somebody else?   Share your story with us in the comments.   And to learn more about pervading your organization with positivity, check out Lift by clicking on the cover below.

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