Identifying Potential in Ourselves and Others

Kevin Eikenberry

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If there is someone nearby as you read this look in their eyes.   Look closely and you will see great potential inside this person regardless of how “successful” or accomplished they are.   If you are alone, get up, find a mirror, and look in your own eyes.   There is great potential there too!

If you don’t believe this premise - that great potential is inside each of us - there is no reason to continue reading.   Why?  Because this article will give you concrete steps to help you recognize and find that potential in yourself and others.  

If you don’t believe it is there, it will be pretty hard to find it.

(Ok, I’m glad you are still reading!)

Identifying Our Own Potential

I know you may be reading this thinking about how you can coach, mentor and lead others – and you really are more interested in focusing on others.   This is admirable and we’ll get there in a few minutes, however in order to help others most effectively, we need to know how it works ourselves, and by working on ourselves we are in an even better position to help others.

1.  Be introspective.   Spend time alone with your thoughts.   Consider these questions and use them as a starting point.   You are trying to open your mind and find your strengths, passions and goals.   By thinking about these things and making some notes in a journal you will be opening your mind to your own potential.

  •  What are the things you most enjoy doing and why?
  •  When do you feel most satisfied and productive?
  •  Think about your childhood dreams – what were they?
  •  What are your goals and dreams now – not those others have put on you – but yours?
  •  What have you always wanted to try?

    2.  Look for patterns.   While you will find clues in the specifics you have thought about and written down, take a higher level look.   What kinds of trends and patterns do you see?  The goal is to find specific skills, aptitudes, and situations that you can develop and nurture.   Write down your observations.

    3.  Ask others.   Ask others for their input.   Who you pick to help you can be critical to your success here.   Ask people who will be supportive and care enough about you and your success to provide some insight and ideas to you.   You might consider a family member, a peer, a mentor, your boss; it could be anyone.   Just make sure they have enough experience and exposure to you to offer a balanced and informed opinion.   Rather than sharing what you’ve come up with, ask them from a clean slate.   Use the following questions as a way to start the conversation – the discussion will flow naturally from there.   Make sure that you take notes on all of the insights they share.

  •  What do you see as my biggest strengths?
  •  What kinds of things do you think I could excel at, even if you haven’t seen me do them?
  •  In what situations have you seen me shine?
  •  What do you see as my biggest area of potential?

    4.  Look again.   Review all of your notes again – Now you can look at both your thoughts and the ideas and insights you received from others.   Look for more trends.   Perhaps some things pop out at you and there is agreement.   Or, perhaps others have identified things you never thought of (which is one of the reasons you ask them in the first place!)  Make more notes of your observations and ideas.

    5.  Potential identified!  Congratulations!  After going through this exercise you will likely have identified more things and ideas than you can take advantage of right away.  

    Identifying Potential in Others

    The process for helping others is the same, except the order of the steps might change a little and your role is different.   If you have completed the steps above and now want to help others, you have to start with sales.

    Think about it.   You completed the exercise because you looked in the mirror, and said, in effect, “I have potential, and I’m worth the effort to find it. ”  Now you are looking at someone who may have never had that internal conversation with themselves.

    At the start of this article I said, if you don’t believe you will find something (in our case potential) you won’t likely go searching for it.   So, the first thing you have to do to help others identify their potential is help them believe it is there.   Let’s look at the steps now:

    1.  Help them see.   First you need to motivate them to want find their potential.   You might see it, but if they don’t you have some work to do!  People may be cynical or have a poor self image, so you might have to start slow.   Encourage them and convince them to try the exercise with you.   If you can get them just beyond skeptical, you can help them be successful.

    2.  Share your reasons.   Perhaps you are a supervisor, manager, parent or in some other position of “power” over the people you are trying to help.   If so it is especially important to let the person know that your intentions are pure.   You just want to help them reach their potential.   Help them see that this is all about them (not about the bottom line, or them getting A’s so you can be proud, etc. ).   Making this clear may remove other barriers in the way of success with this process.

    3.  Share some of your thoughts.   You’ve influenced them, and gotten them on board.   Now you may need to “prime the pump”.   Share with them a couple of things that you see in them – things that you see as being areas of great potential.   This isn’t the time to give them everything, just enough to engage them and encourage them to follow the process.

    4.  Get them involved.   Now share the process with them.   Give them a list of the steps you used to identify your own potential (Go ahead – cut and paste the steps above and give it to them. ) Encourage them to start with introspection and advise them to take notes.

    5.  Coach them through. Encourage them to stay with the process.   They will likely ask you to be one of the people to share with them – after all you influenced and encouraged them to do this to start with!  Whether they ask you or not, continue to encourage them and help them in any way you can.
    6.  Congratulate them!  When they have identified some areas of potential, make sure you congratulate them.   Let them know how excited you are for them, and let them know that you will do all you can to help them develop those potential skills and aptitudes.

    The first step towards releasing potential is to identify, name and recognize that potential. There is more to be done, but you can’t do any of that until the potential is identified.   That leaves you plenty to do right now anyway, right?

    ©2004, All Rights Reserved, Kevin Eikenberry.   Kevin  publishes Unleash Your Potential, a free weekly ezine designed to provide ideas, tools, techniques and inspiration to enhance your professional skills.   Go to to read the current issue and subscribe.   Kevin is also President of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a learning consulting company that helps Clients reach their potential through a variety of training, consulting and speaking services.   You may contact Kevin at toll free 888. LEARNER.


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