I first came across this quote from the great John C. Maxwell 5 years ago while attending his leadership program in Florida, and it has imprinted upon me since with the depth and wisdom behind these 5 simple words. In essence, it means before leaders try to add value to people, grow people, or challenge people to stretch their comfort zone, the pre-requisite for leaders is to value their people first, understand them, to acknowledge who they are, what they have achieved, and to see their potential. So...... what exactly is “value”? How do we define and "see" the value of a team member?

Value = Performance + Potential

Performance of team members is about the results they are currently producing, the problems they have solved, and the goals they have achieved. The potential of team members is the distance between where they are now, and where they can actually be in the future. This is the value of the iceberg beneath the surface; it’s already there, just waiting to be uncovered and fulfilled.

From my leadership coaching experience with leaders for the past 10 years, the balance between seeing Performance and seeing Potential can be quite tricky. Most leaders are great at critical thinking and problem solving; ie. horizontal thinking. Thus they usually have an unconscious bias towards looking out for Performance, ie data, KPIs and results. Many-a-time they can be quick to dismiss the non-performers as “slow”, “lazy”, “immature” or even “useless”.

By not looking beyond the surface, and not utilizing vertical thinking to uncover what is hidden beneath the iceberg, leaders fail to see the potential of team members. Vertical thinking requires reflection, understanding, empathy, learning, and coaching to tap into the inner wisdom, creativity and confidence of team members. It’s already there, waiting to be uncovered. Focusing only on people performance and neglecting on people potential misses the true value of people, and thereby resulting in lost value and opportunity for the company as well.

On the other hand, I have also witnessed leaders who only see potential in team members, ever pushing them, correcting them, stretching them and challenging them to be who they can truly be in the future; without acknowledging, appreciating, understanding and celebrating who they are and what they have achieved at the present. To these leaders, the team has to keep growing, keep stretching and keep scaling new heights. To the team members, they are never enough, no matter how hard they try.

The crux of this dilemma is not about balance, but about sequence. By appreciating, acknowledging and celebrating more with team members first, they start to feel being seen, being heard and being valued. Trust, relationship and comfort zone are being built. With this psychological safety foundation being established, leaders can then start to challenge them, grow them and stretch their comfort zone. Team members feel safer to do something unsafe. New ideas start to emerge, new ways of doing things are innovated, and both people and company can grow and thrive together.

SEE VALUE TO ADD VALUE. 5 simple words. But the wisdom behind is immeasurable. Thank you John C. Maxwell. Stay well and thrive, my friends.

Warren Eng

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