Conventional wisdom would have you believe that culture and strong leadership are two essential elements for business success. While these are indeed critical, and arguably the pillars of success for any size company, there are two other essential elements key to success: potential and performance combined.

In leadership and psychology circles, the focus on human potential has long been a focus dating back nearly two centuries.

At its peak of popularity in the 1960’s, the human potential movement and its advocates believed that people could have a more meaningful life. Such a life encompassed understanding of and building on one’s potential. Those who worked towards their potential led a life of greater happiness, creativity, and fulfillment, or the good life.

Place the belief of human potential in business, and necessities like engagement, satisfaction, and well-being emerge. These three work-life basics are considered gold standards in measuring the effectiveness of the workplace.

Yet, there is a problem with focusing on human potential alone.

To focus solely on human potential to improve engagement, employee satisfaction and well-being, can lead to unintended negative consequences. For starters, leaders who want the threesome to influence their workplace culture and climate, risk creating the country club affect. This is when employees feel good about working for the company but there is little to no accountability for results. The culprit for causing the country club affect is the absence of fierce feedback—caring and genuine feedback on a person’s performance, positive or otherwise. When people feel good about working on a team or in an organization but don’t receive feedback the outcome usually is strong relationships but mediocre to sloppy work.

Another trap in the singular focus on human potential is the dismissal of business savvy practices: goal setting, measurement and reporting, for example.

Consider this example of a previous client. One of the senior managers wanted employees to be happy. Consequently, he didn’t want to share difficult or bad news that impacted employees’ work and relationships. Not only did employees have a false sense of reality, they also were unable to make sense of problems. As employees encountered problems they didn’t have enough context to understand causes and effects. What’s more, work progress stalled as frustrations and fatigue from stress weakened employees’ abilities to do their best work.

If human potential is one input to success, performance is its partner. However, just like focusing solely on a person’s potential is short-sighted, so, too, is solely focusing on performance.

A singular focus on performance potentially breeds a “what have you done for me lately” mindset that dehumanizes and reduces people to widgets—replaceable, configurable, and predictable. To assume people are any of these three will set you up for a lifetime of frustration or even anger.

What’s more, to focus solely on the performance of a person often leads to overlooking his strengths. Strengths are the union of competence and enthusiasm towards one’s work. A leader will miss this nuance when he looks at is employees merely as a means to an end.

Forbes contributor and Emmy Winner Kare Anderson explains that today’s difference makers have a mutuality mindset. Simply stated, a mutuality mindset is when people come together to determine how best to leverage each other’s sweet spots. In doing this, you generate the greatest amount of value for each other and for the company.

You become a difference maker when you combine a human potential mindset with caring about how those you lead reach high performance.

Anderson’s mutuality mindset is key here. For this powerful pairing to make a difference, you want to inspire your employees to live into their potential and use their competence and enthusiasm to achieve high performance. Combined the two are a powerful force that raises the quality of their work. And it also is deeply gratifying for your employees.

The powerful pairing of potential and performance play off one another in productive, meaningful ways. They are a sort of yin and yang of business: When the two interact they harmonize a leader’s actions and motivate employees to do their best work.

Indeed, it’s key to learn about your employees and their potential. You can do this through regular Optimism One-on-Ones: conversations that focus on goals, work progress, values-alignment, and purpose.

To motivate employees to achieve high performance, it’s key they understand the company’s goals and objectives. Make this personal. Help them connect the dots to what they do to the impact it has on important company efforts. What’s more, you want to intrinsically motivate employees by learning what their strengths are. You then want to align each employee’s work with their strengths.

Yes, in business results are what matter. If the results you seek need to be better than mediocre, then bring together a human potential mindset grounded in high work performance expectations. The two then become a powerful pairing that matter to both the company and its people.



Shawn Murphy

Shawn Murphy

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post.

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