Achieving one's potential requires focusing on the prize

August 17, 2009
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Sometimes an individual or a business is able to succeed, grow and prosper because of a unique product, or appropriate market timing, or plain good luck. More often, however, much planning, analyzing, forecasting, modeling and “sweat equity” go into bringing a dream to fruition. A person must selflessly invest time, money and effort to realize the returns that inevitably come when he or she mortgages short-term leisure time for long-term rewards.

While the creation of jobs and the return of wealth to a community may be offshoots of profitable business, they are simply byproducts of someone making his or her dream real. Before accomplishing anything, however, one must envision the future, determine how it can be enacted, and then steadfastly advance toward its realization.

In today’s competitive marketplace, one must closely monitor progress and constantly identify obstacles that could hinder the accomplishment of goals, either avoiding their negative impact or minimizing their effect to help guarantee success. Changes to established plans should be considered carefully before acting, but actions should be intentional rather than reactive or in response to temporary conditions.

Business success can be directly linked to the ability of its people to contribute freely and creatively to its growth — and in order to leverage the power of people, an organization must foster and encourage personal development. Though today may not be the right time to increase costs by dusting off the old educational reimbursement policy or requiring employees to attend three seminars per year, an organization can encourage its employees to envision the future and where he or she may fit.

Questions that should be asked include what does one want to be, want to accomplish, and realistically expect to achieve? To taste success one must start with a conclusion — a goal or set of expectations. Without an end point, a person will never know when a chapter has concluded so another can begin. Life without purpose can be eventful but is rarely satisfying. It may be full of new beginnings but is strangely at a loss for “ends.”

Once a goal has been established, an individual must determine how it can be accomplished. What knowledge or ability must be attained to achieve the goal? Who must be brought into the solution and who should be excluded from its execution? Should the power of a team be brought into play or is the goal more individualistic?

Too often, training is an afterthought to the accomplishment of a dream. When we start “doing” without thinking, we may taste limited success but it will be realized in spite of ourselves rather than because of anything that was done intentionally or could be repeated. Organizations can play an active role in this process by providing the time for employees to think, an environment in which they can experiment, the tools they may need to become accomplished, and the climate in which they can succeed.

To achieve greatness, people must steadfastly advance toward the realization of their dreams. In order to continually move forward, systems must be put in place to identify obstacles that could hinder progress and to justify warranted changes. An individual will never reach full potential should he or she focus too intently on the path rather than moving toward the prize at its conclusion. Likewise, an organization will never leverage the power of its people if they are kept in the dark, expected to “do” rather than to question, and are stifled through fear rather than being allowed to grow through healthy experimentation.

Summer is rapidly, winding down. Traditionally September ushers in a new wave of activities, responsibilities and meetings. Rather than being caught up in the rush, perhaps we should all take the time to chart a path, setting our targets high, so that we can be an integral part of a well-planned solution rather than simply a piece of the puzzle or a part of the problem that just doesn’t seem to fit. Only by choosing to envision the future, to enact a solution and to steadfastly advance towards self-actualization (while keeping our eyes on the goal) will we achieve our true potential. Only by being all that we can be (or, as an employer, encouraging employees to grow and develop) will we contribute to the success, growth and sustainability of an organization.

One’s potential is not measured by what he or she has done but rather by what he or she is capable of doing. The potential of an individual is not an accounting of where he or she has been but rather an anticipation of where they are going. While some may hold on to the dreams of their past, one must think of things that never were — that have yet to be realized — and ask, “Why not?” if they are to achieve their full potential.

David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association, a not-for-profit provider of human resource solutions since 1939.

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