Unlocking Hidden Potential

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

Everyone has the potential to achieve greatness. Whether greatness in being a great parent, by creating a lasting impact on society, or something else, everyone has some kind of potential. The struggle with potential is that it’s just that- a capacity to become or develop into something in the future. Just because everyone has potential does not mean that they will discover and properly capitalize on that potential. Some people recognize their potential right away and use that discovery to fuel the things they wish to accomplish in life. Other people may never realize their potential, think they don’t have the ability to accomplish what they want and find themselves sputtering with life goals and meaning. Since everyone has potential at their disposal, important to us all is understanding how to recognize and unleash that potential, so that all people can experience the self-efficacy that comes with recognizing that you can achieve anything.

Recognizing your own potential starts with understanding and developing your skills of character. Character is a word that often gets thrown around and means different things to different people, but regarding unlocking your potential, character skills are very important. Character and personality may sometimes get confused, but they are two different things. Personality is a disposition, certain preferences for how to think, feel, and act. Character is “your capacity to prioritize your values over your instincts.” Character is the ability to support and act on the values you believe deeply, regardless of the situation.

In unlocking potential, there are three character traits that make the most difference: proactivity, determination, and discipline. By developing these character traits, you are able to be strong in the face of adversity, to come up with creative solutions to problems, and to maintain the capacity to keep pushing forward (or find an alternative route) to achieve your goals.

Unlocking our own potential is hard enough, but how do we recognize the potential in others? Often, the life we are born into has a large impact on what we can achieve. People born into families with high socio-economic status and an enriched environment have the advantage of abundant resources to help them along the way. However, regardless of the family we’re born into, everyone has potential to unlock. Early education has a large impact on unlocking potential, as studies have shown that simple changes in the way classrooms are structured can ensure that every student succeeds (not just those that show early signs of high ability). One study found that teachers who taught the same class multiple years in a row had students who achieved higher scores and those teachers also outperformed their peers. The reason behind this was that the teacher got to know all students on an individual level and understood their areas of struggle and proficiency. By having ample time to know their students, the teachers were able to recognize the potential in all of them and provide them with the resources and learning necessary to excel.

We can also implement structures in the workplace to help identify hidden potential. Although traditional selection systems for hiring new employees have worked for a long time, our systems for judging qualifications are flawed. Research has shown that in many cases the amount of experience an individual possesses is borderline irrelevant, and that what’s important is not how long people have done a job, but how well they can learn to do a job. One way to help improve this discrepancy in our own organizations is to put performance in context. This includes strategies such as creating metrics that objectively compare people to their peers, adjusting for difficulty outside the workplace by comparing individuals to peers in similar circumstances, and finding a way to assess people based on the distance they have traveled to overcome unique obstacles on their path. These aren’t easy things to do, but by understanding that everyone has potential- and that some people have had to work harder than others to achieve the same status- we will go a long way in recognizing the potential of others. And, by highlighting that potential, we can create a workforce of people striving to achieve greatness.

Grant, A. (2023). Hidden potential: The science of achieving greater things. WH Allen.

Unlocking Hidden Potential was originally published in Horizon Performance on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.