The Power of Potential

Julie Jones
Have you ever had someone in your corner who saw your potential? They believed in you, welcomed and supported you in your skill development or career journey.

Imagine how different Dorothy's journey in the Wizard of Oz would have been without her belief in people, their skills, and the patience for their learning. In this altered scenario, Dorothy wakes up after a tornado drops her in the Land of Oz, an unfamiliar and scary place. Unfortunately, Dorothy has mountains of work to complete back home in Kansas and doesn't have time for this delay. But she won't let a tornado derail her day -- she will follow the yellow brick road and get back on track quickly.

As Dorothy rounds the corner, she sees a neon flashing sign – Home of Oz! The mighty Oz can grant her quick passage back to Kansas. Some witch offers her magic shoes but "Who has time to believe in magic when Oz is just around the corner with a return ticket?" Dorothy encounters some interesting characters – a scarecrow without a brain, a rusted tin woodman needing a heart, and a whimpering lion afraid of his own shadow. Dorothy can't believe her bad luck. She wonders, "Who has time to deal with their issues?"

Soon Dorothy learns she must take these three on her journey to meet Oz. She thinks, "There must be a shortcut; let me Google it! I will figure out the best route to get to Oz, bypassing the flocks of crows, the swarms of bees, and winged monkeys. Then, these characters can follow me."

At some point in the altered scenario, the Good Witch Glinda raps Dorothy on the head with her wand. Dorothy recognizes that the tinman, scarecrow, and lion aren't impediments to her journey but rather placed there to help her succeed. She also realizes Oz is nothing more than a snake oil salesperson; he doesn't have any superhuman powers. In fact, he is afraid of showing his true self to the world.

Dorothy wonders about the true cost of her actions --leaving others on the outside and failing to help them grow their confidence or skills. The Good Witch Glinda helped her see that each person has some unique talent they bring to work each day. When you go it alone, you lose these talents and fail to recognize and develop the talents of your team. Plus, including more voices improves ideas and decision-making.

I want to think that careers aren't like the tornado that struck the small Kansas town and displaced Dorothy in the Land of Oz, an unfamiliar and scary place with witches, flocks of crows, swarms of bees, and winged monkeys. But thankfully, Dorothy also found goodness in Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, and in her new companions – the scarecrow, the tinman, and the cowardly lion. Each of the unlikely partners had what they believed was an insurmountable goal to achieve, but together, they achieved their outcomes.

An old African proverb may say it best, "When you want to go fast, go alone but when you want to go far, go together." 

Today, it's easy to push speed as the primary goal, especially with staffing challenges and numerous competing priorities. Getting through each shift and day sometimes becomes the goal, a short-term priority. Unfortunately, this short-termism will have carry-over effects -- employee retention and skill development, overall performance, and lack of innovation, to list a few. In my experience, I have found that investing in people and their skills, even in my busiest periods, paid off for that day and created a sustainable leadership pipeline for the future.

Carla Harris in her 2009 book, Expect to Win – 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace discussed the concept of advisers, mentors, and sponsors.

Advisers are people you encounter in your current job who can answer questions, help grow your confidence, provide advice and general career guidance but not in the context of your broader career aspirations.

Mentors are people who can answer your discreet career questions, provide tailored career advice, and help you prepare a career road map. They invest in you and your success.

Sponsors are people who will use their internal political and social capital to move your career within your organization or beyond. They are your advocate and present your case to others.

I would add Coaches to this list of your supporting team. Coaches are people who also invest in you, your skill development and provide specific learning opportunities and feedback that elevate your current performance or set the stage for career advancement. Coaches empower -- giving you the confidence to take on learning and help you become the driver for your own skill development.

Are there ways you can fulfill these roles for those you work with? For example, who might the Good Witch Glinda rap her magic wand for you to consider?

A heartfelt thank you to some special people for me - my coaches, advisers, mentors, and sponsors. Mary Lou Bambauer, Fred Wiswell, Lin Wilken, Dr. Robbie Hurley, Val Behm, Mary Angela Miller, Paul Lenz, and Georgie Shockey saw potential, believed in me, pushed me to grow, think differently, and empowered me to become a driver of my development and career path.

A special shout out and thank you to the very talented team I was privileged to work with for so many years at Ohio State – They had the courage to tell me when I was wrong; they were willing to challenge my ideas and opinions; and they had big hearts. They were also fun. I'm forever grateful to those listed and others who invested in me and helped me grow personally and professionally over the past four decades.
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