The Magic of Potential

Sword in Stone Merlin and Archimedes

Film: The Sword in the Stone

Release Date: December 25, 1963

Situation: Merlin has a premonition that he is to encounter someone very important in about half-an-hour.   He doesn’t know who it is, only that, “Fate will direct him to me so that I, in turn, may guide him to his rightful place in the world.”  A little more than half-an-hour later, young Arthur, an orphaned page boy/squire-in-training from a nearby castle, falls through Merlin’s ceiling.  The boy has had no education outside of his kitchen and squirely duties: he has been brought up by his adopted father to believe that he is good for nothing more than being a squire to his older, strong-of-body-but-not-of-mind adopted brother, Sir Kay.  Merlin, however, sees potential in Arthur and knows that he is bound for greater things and spends the rest of the film preparing him for the future.

Leadership Lesson: Educate based on potential, not position.

I think it’s safe to say that most companies have at least a decent program to train employees in the basics of doing their job.  This can range from classroom teaching, to job-shadowing, to e-learnings.  It makes sense that people need to be given the basic tools to complete their job successfully.

But is it acceptable to stop there?

Some people are content sticking to the job they started with.  They are perfectly happy remaining a Tier 1 Phone Service Rep, or never leaving the stock room or cash register.  They appreciate the routine and are receiving everything they need to meet their needs right where they are.

Conversely, other individuals have a need to learn new things and grow.  If they don’t have these opportunities where they are, they will go and find them somewhere else.  In fact, a lack of growth opportunities made it to Direct Recruiters, Inc’s  Top 10 Reasons Why Good People Quit.

As a leader, it is a huge part of our responsibility to identify and grow the potential of the people we are leading.  This development could be directly related to their current position, such as a phone service rep learning more advanced techniques in deescalating customer calls or a stock room clerk being trained how the supply budget and ordering works.  It can also be more tailored to advancement opportunities, such as mastering time management skills or learning to make employee schedules, both of which would be helpful if a supervisor or manager position became available.

It’s easy to see how this kind of development can be beneficial and positive for the individual, but how do we justify the time and energy that has to be taken away from the every day tasks of the business?  How do we rationalize the added budget necessary to cover our people for the time they’re learning these new skills?  How do we advocate for THEIR development to OUR leaders?

To put it simply: I don’t think a business has ever suffered because their people were too good or too well-rounded.  Strengthening the skills of the workers strengthens the company as a whole.  As your business expands, you will need more skilled individuals to step-up and become supervisors, managers, trainers, etc.  While you can always find candidates from outside of the current staff who can fill these positions, having a large pool of qualified internal candidates would be easier as they will already have a wealth of knowledge about business practices, customer base, work culture, etc.  Having the ability to promote from within allows already existing relationships between departments and individuals to be strengthened faster than a new relationship can be established.  In addition, it builds the confidence of the promoted worker and allows them to see that they are appreciated as a person, not just a name in a directory or a body at a desk.  Others in the company will be able to see this positive movement and feel good about their place of employment, as well as aspire to move ahead in the company rather than look to go elsewhere for the chance.

Merlin saw potential in a 12-year-old boy who ended up becoming a legendary king of England.  We must look for the potential in those that have been entrusted to our care.  Who knows what greatness they are destined for?


“That boy has got real spark. Lots of spirit. Throws himself heart and soul into everything he does. That’s really worth something, if it could only be turned in the right direction.”

– Merlin, Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone”

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jennifer Doody says:

    So true. Investing in the dreams of your staff and employees and helping them to achieve their goals can also create incredible employee loyalty. Who doesn’t want a driven, invested, go-getter team member on their payroll?

    Liked by 1 person

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