Potential vs. Probable…


“You’ve gotta meet James; he has sooo much potential, he just needs to apply himself more.”

“Sally’s another one with a lot of potential; in fact, I believe she could be the top sales producer in the division… if only she believed it.”

“Then there’s Marty. With his personality, he sure has potential… but he just seems to lack the drive and ambition it takes to get ahead.”

Ah, yes… potential.

Managers seek it… investors crave it… politicians tout it.

And more often than not, they’re all disappointed. The potential it seems, rarely develops into, well… its true potential! And statements like the ones above reveal the answer why.

Personalities and intelligence and charisma notwithstanding… if James doesn’t apply himself… and Sally doesn’t believe in herself… and Marty has no passion… there is very little real potential there!


To be sure, most discussions regarding potential tend to be couched in uncertainty and doubt. Potential itself is typically defined by terms like “if”, “but”, “could”, and “maybe” which, though they may represent the realm of POSSIBILITY… they certainly don’t indicate a high degree of PROBABILITY!

Maybe it’s just me…

Maybe it’s that I’ve personally hired over twenty-five hundred people in my life… or that I’ve had over fourteen thousand employees. Maybe it’s because I have made some really critical mistakes in hiring… and I do mean CRITICAL MISTAKES!… especially early on.

But I am just not that big a fan of unrealized potential.

That’s because if there is real potential there, it doesn’t tend to stay hidden long. True potential always leaves clues, and talent and ability have a way of predictably rising to the top.

You see, the truth is that the seeds of success or failure, of extraordinary or average, and of positive or negative live within most of us throughout our lives.

But here’s the catch. The seeds that grow are the ones that we focus our time and energy upon… that we cultivate and water and nourish. And winners tend, more often than not, to cultivate the right seeds!

So dream immensely… plan meticulously… work relentlessly. And you’ll turn your potential… and that of your organization and team… into probable.


I look forward to speaking with you.


Further consideration:

Potential is like stored energy… it must be released to be of any benefit at all.

Focus on what is… and determine what will be. Then make it happen.

Leave potential, and unlikely possibility, to someone else… preferably your competition.

Leaders recognize true strengths and abilities in their people, and create specific plans to develop each one.

Who on your team is one step from excellence? What is YOUR plan to help them?


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3 thoughts on “Potential vs. Probable…

  1. I just love the line that begins with “So dream immensely…” There is a book called A Spark from Heaven by Adrian Savage about potential (fyi, the title is not from religious context at all). I use a values tool that was developed by Adrian that is based on his extensive work on the subject of potential.

    Winners do tend to have a knack for cultivating the right seeds as you say. However, I have experienced first hand more than one of the most unlikely of people to emerge from the pack as leaders when an organization’s leadership takes on changing the culture for real. It is amazing how the same person can be wildly successful in one organization and in another fail miserably. Individuals certainly have a lot to do with whether or not they realize their potential, but the culture of their families, communities, organizations, etc. can have a profound effect in that regard as well.

    Great post Steve.

  2. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comments.

    You are absolutely correct – great leadership creates, inspires, and nurtures an environment where people thrive. To be sure, one of the true signs of leadership is the development of people beyond where they, or anyone else, thought was possible.

    Have a wonderful day, and I wish you continued success and impact over at http://www.randomactsofleadership.com !


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