People Power - April 2008

By Scott Humphrey

There is no more rewarding feeling than seeing someone realize what they are capable of accomplishing. However, the tendency to see potential instead of just seeing the person is often a curse. There have been countless times in my life when someone who did not live up to his or her potential has disappointed me. You probably have at least one employee working for you who has not performed at the level you felt they were capable of when you hired them.

In this article, I want to share with you three things that you can do to get the most from yourself and your team.

Get to Know Your People
You may remember me saying in a previous article, “The best predictor of future performance is past performance.” If this is true, and I believe it is, it’s also true that the more you know about someone’s past, the more you can predict their future—what they are capable of accomplishing. The reality is that many times our perceptions are wrong.

Recently, in a very pointed discussion, I was told by a manager with the best of intentions that there was a perception among some people that I was born with a “silver spoon” in my mouth. This person had heard me speak and knew that I often referenced my time in the industry by noting that my father owned his own carpet mill, a mill that I began working in when I was seven. He also referenced my college career. I studied music at a small private school in Nashville and was blessed enough to meet some people who made it in the music industry, people like Lee Greenwood, Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, and Trisha Yearwood. What I sometimes forget to share is that my dad never had success in the carpet industry. As a matter of fact, it was the poorest time of my life. My family of five lived in a ten-foot-wide trailer much of that time. We qualified for nearly every form of government aid available. Oh, and about that private school—I mowed grass, trimmed hedges, and piled up debt to be able to attend. My point is that sometimes what is visible doesn’t portray the real story.

Learn from Your Failures
Do you know what Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, and countless other successful people have in common? They were all failures at some point in their life.

•Abraham Lincoln received no more than five years of formal education in his entire life. It is recorded that he had 12 major failures in his life before being elected the 16th president of the United States. Those failures were personal, professional and political.

•Beethoven’s music teacher once said of him, “As a composer he is helpless.”

•Steven Spielberg dropped out of high school in his sophomore year. He was persuaded to return and was placed in a learning disabled class. He lasted one month, and then dropped out of school forever.

•When Thomas Edison was a boy, his teachers told him he was too stupid to learn. He tried more than 2,000 experiments before he created the first successful light bulb.

•Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft and until recently the richest man in the world, was a Harvard University dropout in the 1970s. The company he dropped out to form was soon to become Microsoft. He founded it with technology that he purchased from someone for $50.

•F.W. Woolworth got a job in a dry goods store when he was 21, but his employer would not let him wait on customers because he didn’t have enough sense. The Woolworth Company became one of the largest retail chains in the world during the 20th century.

•Henry Ford’s first two automobile companies failed. He went on to create the Ford Motor Company. He was also the first to apply assembly line manufacturing to the production of affordable automobiles.

There are numerous lessons here for you and your team, including:

•Great success often comes after periods of failure.

•True winners rarely think about quitting.

•There will always be two kinds of people; those who believe you will succeed and those who are convinced you will fail. You will prove one or the other correct.

•Winners live with an “I Can” attitude. To them, failure is nothing but a temporary speed bump on the road to their inevitable success.

Don’t Attempt To Get There Overnight
For those who make a habit of failure, this is often the reason. I just finished watching Tiger Woods sink another match-winning putt. I was reminded of what Sean McPheat, managing director of Management Training and Development LTD in the U.K., cited in a recent email correspondence:

“A couple of years ago, Tiger Woods was the undisputed number 1 on the professional golf circuit, and earned the highest amount of money! Ranked Number 1, he averaged throughout the year a score per round of 67 and a few decimal points. Across the calendar year, he earned an average of $124,000 per competitive round. I don’t know about you but my rounds normally cost me money!

“Ranked 100 on the same criteria, Woody Austen was just a little different. Scoring an average of somewhere in the region of 69 and a few decimal points strikes per round, he earned approximately $4,500 dollars per competitive round. The difference in money earned is massive, but the difference in terms of physical score is minimal in percentage terms, 2 and a bit percent!

“So, we can learn from this very easily that increasing performance, even a tiny bit, and doing it consistently, can have a massive impact on your earnings.”

The truth is obvious to see. Success is about consistent daily improvement in small bites, not the mindset of “we’ll change tomorrow.” That mindset leads to consistency all right, consistent frustration for you and your team. Instead utilize the mindset that says, “We’ll (I’ll) begin to change tomorrow, and over time we will become all we can be.” People with this mindset don’t settle!

One final thought—risk may be natural for you, but that does not mean it is for your team. This could be a fearful time for you and those who work and live around you. For this reason, I encourage you to create a safety net. 

During the initial phase of construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, between 1933 and 1935, the city and those constructing the bridge faced a dilemma. With the bridge half completed, they were beginning to receive some negative press. They were running behind, but even more importantly, 23 workers had fallen to their deaths. A proposal was made that seemed to have the ability to handle the problem—build a net that spans the width and length of the bridge. Unfortunately, this solution came at a cost of $100,000. You can imagine that this was a lot of money in the 1930s. After much debate, the net was constructed and secured. Because the net was there, people focused more on the job at hand and less on the risk and danger. During the remaining two years of construction only ten people fell. All survived. 

This story illustrates two great points. First, during tough times we make things even tougher by focusing on the impending danger and risk. We are more likely to make mistakes when we are motivated by fear. Second, by creating a safety net for yourself and your team, by eliminating that which they fear the most, you may actually see your productivity go up. The amazing by-product of the safety net during construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was that productivity went up 25% in the final two years.

Your safety net could be many things, but it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Try positive affirmation, open communication, and posting of realistic goals as safety nets for yourself and your team.

These may be challenging times for you and your team. That is all the more reason why it’s important to believe the best and expect the best from you and your team. So I challenge you to get to know your team, to learn from your personal and corporate failures, and to pace yourself by creating realistic expectations. When you do, you will be well on your way to getting the best from yourself, your team, and your life! 


Copyright 2008 Floor Focus