They’re only….

…only what?

Stop saying, “They’re only…”

Start saying, “They could be…”

Don’t expect less of people.  Expect more.

Stop keeping Mike pigeonholed as the guy who peed his pants in first grade or Suzie labeled as the perpetual teacher’s pet.

Quit dwelling on that time Danny missed his deadline or all those times last year when Wanda couldn’t decide in time to seize huge opportunities.

There’s a Goethe quote that goes something like,

Treat people as they are and they’ll stay that way.  Treat them as the could be and they’ll become greater.”

I’m not saying to pretend people are something they’re not.  I’m asking you to acknowledge the skills, knowledge or abilities they have today and then aim them toward something higher.  Aim them toward their “could be.”

For the high school football team who’s never been state champions; teach them a drill they can run to perfection, improving their game and their confidence.  Maybe they’ll win.

For the work group that’s never met a deadline; implement a work flow process that frees the group from bad behaviors and helps them ship on time.  Maybe they’ll meet their deadlines.

For the managers that never seem to decide in time; create a meeting dedicated to making the decision and make clear the potential consequences of not deciding: loss of future business, or credibility, or something else that matters to them.  Maybe they’ll decide.

They won’t win every time, ship every time or decide every time, but you didn’t say, “They will be…”

You said, “They could be…”

That’s a lot more than “they’re only…”

Why not try?

5 thoughts on “They’re only….”

  1. I think of the Goethe quote you referenced every day (keeping a copy on my fridge might have something to do with that as well though)- Very wise words to try and live up to. I thought I’d post the entire quote. Just start trying – it truly gets easier with practice.

    “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming”

  2. April K. Mills

    Danny – Thanks for posting the whole quote. I wonder if it was from this quote where Stephen Covey got the idea to tell people to make their own weather. I hadn’t heard that turn of phrase until I went to a 7 Habits course a few months ago.

  3. I’ve been using the last line of that quote in my email signature for 3 or 4 months now.

    IMO, it is the essence of leadership; making decisions today as if you were looking at today through the lens of the future.

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