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Leadership Q&A: Potential

Do you you know what your potential is?image

It is an important question that most of us don’t address in a systematic, purposeful way. We talk around it. We celebrate it, but it is rare to meet the person who has a firm grasp on what their potential is.

To discover the potential in ourselves requires us to reflect honestly upon who we are, what we stand for and what we want in life and work. It is more than just thinking about possibilities. It is also testing ourselves, trying new things, discovering the horizons of our lives.

Potential is a quality inherent in every person,  place, or opportunity.

I describe that quality as Impact.

Impact is the difference that matters. Impact is a change that we create through our decisions and actions. The quality is the difference that matters that is the measure of our potential.

To seek to fulfill our potential is to discover our horizons. Our horizons are many. They are physical, intellectual, spiritual, and functional.

Physical horizons concern strength, agility, and stamina.

Intellectual horizons are many. It is our capacity for knowledge, ability to analyze and synthesize pieces of information into a coherent body of knowledge. It is memory, creativity, and clarity of thought, and many more aspects of how our brain works.

Spiritual horizons relate to how we connect with others and the world around us. Our spiritual horizons test to what degree our actions are aligned with our beliefs and what we say about ourselves.

Functional horizons concern the skills we have for doing the things we perform each day. Whether it is building a house with our own hands or speaking a second language, functional horizons are about the degree of proficiency and range of  our life  and work skills.

Each of these horizons are beyond our reach at any one time. We can do more, go father and achieve more. The more is the horizon in each case.

These four horizons are the measures or limits of what we can do. There are also the horizons of what we can achieve and the impact we can create. This is the horizon that matters.

Our potential is not a given. There is not some line of demarcation beyond which we cannot go. This does not mean that we can do anything we set our mind to do. Rather, it means that the impact of our lives is without boundary. If we apply ourselves to making the most with what we’ve been given, we’ll see that there is hidden potential in us.

The issue of our potential confronts us in two ways.

One, it challenges our values. To define our potential is to make a statement about what we believe and value. Two, it challenges our perception of who we are. We establish the extent of our potential by believing we can go farther that we thought we could yesterday, and what we value sets the mark that we strive to achieve.

This notion is captured in That No Quit Attitude, the Olympic poem that Cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell wrote for the Salt Lake City Winter Games. He begins by reflecting on the people who settled the Western United States.

While gathering cattle near the ruins of a long abandoned homestead in the shadows of the mountains, questions swarmed around my mind of the people who had claimed there, most forgotten now, and long dead still.

I wonder what had prompted them to leave their worlds behind searching for a life uncertain, in a vast and rugged region up and leave their home and kin for opportunity to find.

Taking little more to start with than an idea, and a reason and a dream of their succeeding in a future yet defined.

Soon these queries led to more like …

Why it is that some folks always need to push their borders out beyond the furthest milestone on a never-ending quest to find new ways and trails to blaze and in the process stretch that realm of what is built and done and known?

Towards the end of his poem he brings it around to the athletes who push their minds, bodies and spirits to their utmost to see just far out on the horizon is their potential.

Still, I believe like dogs and horses we’re all born with resolution.

Like muscles and good habits it needs use and exercise, if left dormant, its in jeopardy of lost evolution for eventually it shrivels ups and atrophy and dies.

But when flexed, it blossoms heroes in a source of inspiration for we all recognize that virtue and a no quit attitude.

And it proves its attributes in competition and vocation that evokes appreciation and a show of gratitude.

And since mankind started walking, it has been swifter, higher, stronger, as if pushed by some deep need to keep their limits unconfined

Almost thriving, always striving for things bigger, better, longer in an unrelenting pursuit of perfection, redefined.

And in this world that is soft complacence there are still a few among the masses who will readily give all to see a job or dream fulfilled

It’s a trait that’s void of prejudice toward races, sex or classes just demanding its possessor be of valor and strong will.

Then as we start our cattle homeward lettin’ the dogs bring up the rear, and we leave what’s left of once somebody’s hopes and dreams behind

I’m convinced that no quit attitude will always persevere. Now its the essence and the promise and the crown of human kind.

No one knows their potential. It can only be discovered through reflection, trying, testing and doing.

My potential is not yours, and yours isn’t your neighbors. We don’t so much own our potential, but follow it.

I’ve met few people in my life whom I’ve felt understood what it meant to reach their potential. What I’ve learned from them is that to reach for your potential brings self-knowledge, humility, a broadening of one’s view of the world and ultimately a restless satisfaction.

How do  you start to reach your potential? Simply ask about what matters to you, and seek to understand how to take it to the next level. Whether it is a physical, intellectual, spiritual or a skills-oriented horizon, figure out where that boundary is for  you and decide that this year, I’m going beyond it.

Reach your potential, and you’ll be a person of impact.

Do it and your life makes a difference that matters.

Is there anything better than that?

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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