Extraordinary Performance Potential

It was a day that 20 young employees at WXC Electronics had anticipated with nervousness, anxiety, and great hope.  They had been identified as potential high performers after being with WXC for a year.  They had dressed to impress.

When they arrived, they were escorted into a restaurant-size kitchen where the chairman greeted them.  “Before we begin our leadership activities, I’m going to teach you how to make yeast rolls.”  You could tell that the leadership group hadn’t expected this.  The chairman took them through the dough preparation, watching intently as they followed his directions.  Once the initial dough was prepared, the chairman turned the group over to the program director.  “I’ll see you again several times today as we go through each step in the roll making process.  This evening, we’ll have rolls for supper.”

The next day when the group arrived, they again met the chairman in the kitchen.  “We’re going to make some more rolls today, so go at it.”  Again, the group was stunned.  This time, the chairman gave them no instructions.  He just watched as they went about the challenge.

The third and fourth days began the same way.  It was clear that some of the group had prepared and were ready for the challenge.  Some of the group had begun to work together.  What was also obvious was that some of the group had used prior experiences to improve their roll making.

The final day, the group met in the conference room rather than the kitchen.  The chairman started by saying:  “Let me explain why we did the roll making to start each session.  I find that this gives me a true indicator of our future leaders.  Here’s what I was looking for:

  • Listening Ability – On the first day, I was observing how carefully you were paying attention to what I was saying. But the real test came the second day.  Many of you had not retained the information I shared from the previous day.
  • Observation Skills – I was paying attention to how you observed what I was doing. I deliberately did not tell you critical information.  I was wanting to see what you observed.
  • Collaborative Skills – On the second day and beyond, I wanted to see who were the collaborators and who were the lone wolves.
  • Continuous Improvement Focus – I wanted to see how each of you would challenge your own practices to do better.
  • Personal Engagement – Bread making is a messy process. It’s almost impossible to keep flour off of your clothes.  Your hands will get coated with sticky dough.  I wanted to see if you were more concerned with your clothing and hands than you were with the results.
  • Command Presence – It was pretty obvious who among you have the natural ability to lead others; not by your words, but by the confidence you project.

High potential is not a matter of degrees, schools, pedigree or other vestiges of privilege.  Many of our great leaders have come from very humble beginnings.  They had the above traits.  These aren’t taught.  They are innate traits that come from experience, but most important from having your own sense of who you are.  Just as bread needs yeast to rise, leadership needs a small set of traits that lead to the elevation of everyone in an organization.

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“There is no heavier burden than an unfulfilled potential.”

– Charles Schulz (creator of the Peanuts comic strip)

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