Man raising his eyebrow. ? 2008 Lee J Haywood. Via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Why Society Tries to Destroy Its Hidden High Potentials

Forrest ChristianCoaching 2 Comments

It always surprises me that caring, thinking people don’t seem to understand the problems of hidden high potentials. I had to stand up (again!) for a friend at his wedding this last weekend. He’s German and marrying my sister-in-law, so it’s been more work than usual. I’ve stood up so many times I could write a manual on it &emdash; and probably should &emdash; but I’ve had some pretty interesting conversations at weddings.

One was with a retiree who was concerned for her daughter. Her son-in-law had recently lost his job, again, a result of “picking companies that are about to go under”. I suggested that his problem might be related to that of the hidden high potentials. I even volunteered to give him a short overview of the Secret Rules of Career Success as a favor to her.

What was odd was how poorly these suggestions went over. I’m not sure what it is that makes people need to think of you as a complete screw-up but I’m increasingly confronted with evidence that it’s not just a misunderstanding. There’s something powerful in labeling a high-potential who got stuck as having gotten there because he or she is a failure at life. Even normally caring individuals will reject the idea that employment problems can be created by the work system.

She really resisted the thought that he might be highly capable and that this in itself had led to his career stuck.

I heard Glenn Mehltretter of PeopleFit say that we really do know what to do with super-high potentials who can provide a new context for our entire world: we kill them. Or marginalize them, or simply keep them under by constantly disparaging them.

Did you know that Ulysses S. Grant, victorious General of the Northern forces in the American Civil War and two-term President of the United States, was always thought of as an idiot (or screw-up, pick your term) by his father-in-law? The man never forgot that Grant spent years in absolute failure, failing at one thing after another after a bit of a brilliant beginning.

Why do we need to do this? I have some suspicions but I don’t really know.

What I do know is that just because someone tells you that you’re an idiot, or a screw-up or the other various and sundry terms used by mid-level people to describe those who can change the world, doesn’t mean that it’s true.

If you want to change the world, start with the stone that was rejected.

Image Credit: Self-portrait. © 2008 Lee J Haywood. Via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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