Lie 7: People Have Potential

This is a video excerpt from The Freethinking Leader Coalition, unpacking the seventh lie in Marcus and Ashley’s upcoming book, Nine Lies about Work. To view the full video, read book excerpts, and engage with the authors, join here by pre-ordering the book. To learn more about The Freethinking Leader Coalition, click here.

Of course people have potential. People are constantly learning new things and growing intelligently and emotionally. Your brain will grow throughout your life, so how could I possibly sit here and tell you that you don’t have potential? In business, we even rate you on potential – so how could this possibly be a lie?

In the world of work, when we say that “People have potential,” we seem to think that everyone is walking around with a metaphorical Potential Bucket, and if yours is filled then wherever you go, whatever you do, you have more opportunities to learn, grow, and be effective. Sounds pretty great. Are you a High-Potential or a Low-Potential person? It can make all the difference in your career. Click To Tweet

If your bucket is filled, then you’re called “High Potential” – or a HiPo, for short. Organizations are always in search of a good HiPo, so if you’re identified as one then it really makes your world a better place. You’re given more training, more support, more opportunities – and if something doesn’t go well for you, you’re given more benefit of the doubt. We assume that the more we put into a HiPo, the more the organization will get out of you; so we disproportionately invest in them.

Now if your bucket is less filled with potential – or even not filled at all – you’re called a LoPo, or a NoPo. As you can probably guess, it’s not a great label to be saddled with. If you can’t measure potential, does it really exist? Click To Tweet

Yet if you look at the data, you realize that we’ve never been able to measure potential. We can’t reliably say that you have more potential than any of your colleagues. If all humans have the ability to learn and grow (and they do), then potential is nothing more than just “human-ness.” And to say that some employees are “more human” than others is unhelpful and immoral.

How explicitly awful to cloister opportunity off to an elite few, while preventing others from seeing everything that they could be. There is no such thing as potential, and it is both impractical and immoral to act as though there is.

If people don’t have potential, what do they have? Pre-order Nine Lies about Work and join the Freethinking Leader Coalition today to find out.