When I am in Calgary I have the privilege of living very close to our daughter, son in law and granddaughter. Reese is a vibrant 16 months old and a joy to watch her grow with almost daily changes both physically and in personality. We all marvel at her beautiful curiosity and how quickly she learns and adapts to the environment as it changes or more appropriately, as she changes on a regular basis. I find myself smiling as she seems to come up with new learning and surprises us with her seemingly brilliant mind. She is also at that stage now where all of us adults have to watch what we say or do as she mimics our every move!
Just the other day I sat and watched as Reese performed a new maneuver that had all of us impressed and entertained. I heard my daughter, Megan say once again, “She’s a genius! She’s so smart.” And of course I uttered something about this brilliance coming from the Johnson gene pool. What struck me was how many times in Reese’s short life we have not only verbalized her genius but also smiled and encouraged her accomplishments. And each time we do we see a grand, half toothed, smile come over Reese’s face and she ventures to more attempts of brilliance. Failure is clearly a path to future success and more recognition from parents and grandparents.
My good friend Gregg often tells a story of Gordon MacKenzie, Director of Inside Sales at Kodak. Gordon would give his time to visit schools and talk to kids about art and creativity. Gordon would sit with children in 1st grade and ask them, “How many of you are artists?” He would get 100% of the children wildly raising their hands. He then visited a 2nd grade class and asked the same question. Merely 50% of the children raised their hands. By the time he visited a 6th grade class the number of students that raised their hands was zero! I have heard many times that most talent goes undiscovered. I don’t know if we can say it has gone undiscovered but maybe more realistically suppressed out of us. We go from multi-daily reinforcement of the infant gifts we see unfold before our eyes to telling our children and the people we lead, that they have failed again and to stay within their capabilities. Failure moves from a path to new learning and skills to a scarlet badge of discouragement.
In my psychology and coach training programs we learned about the value of positive reinforcement. Evidence suggests that it takes four positives to balance every negative we experience. As I experience the joys of grandparenthood I notice how we constantly praise and reinforce any attempts Reese makes to grow and learn. We tend to blow the 4:1 ratio way out of the water! As I watch children grow and adults toil daily at the professions they choose it seems easy to see how we swing the pendulum totally in the opposite direction. We don’t have time to constantly praise people for their accomplishments. In the organizations we have the privilege of coaching it continues to amaze me of how foreign a concept it is to leaders to consider praising the talent in their organization for their great work.
Let’s not chase the creativity and brilliance out of our people. Many have had it eradicated out of them before they reach junior high. How do we bring back this creativity and brilliance in the people we lead? What will you do, starting today, to reinforce the best resource to business success you have – your people? Lead like they are the untapped brilliance we brought into this world and then I have hope for the world my granddaughter will live and thrive in. I wish only the best for Reese and may she be blessed with many others in her life that nourish her brilliance like her parents and grandparents have and will most assuredly will continue doing well past her early years.