Hope or Potential?


Oscar Pistorius (in case you haven’t heard) is a fast runner – one of the fastest. He may also be the first double amputee to run in the Olympics, using prosthetic legs called Flex-Foot Cheetahs. Everyone seems to be watching and rooting for him.

Oscar was born in South Africa (where he still resides) without a fibula (the long thin bone that runs from the knee to the ankle) in either of his legs. On the advice of his doctor, his parents made a tough decision to amputate his legs below the knee before Oscar got used to using them in advance of his first birthday.

Perhaps part of Oscar’s strength and stamina came from not remembering what it was like to have legs. He has also worked very hard at excelling at everything he’s done. But I suspect that the balance of his ability to surpass expectations came from a mother who didn’t just hope he would make his way in the world; she expected him to perform no differently than his siblings. She believed he had the potential to do what any other person with intact legs could do. His family was active in sports, so Oscar wrestled, boxed and even water skied as a youngster.

Don’t just hope

There is a key distinction here for leaders. You might hope that one of your direct reports will fully use their talent. Better yet, you may see the potential in them that others don’t and want to help them to do draw it out. Do you see the difference? Hope, necessary as it is under certain circumstances, is passive. A call to action is absent in “hope”. Potential draws us in – it entreats us to do something. Seeing the potential in others is important and key to your role as a leader. Here are some of the distinctions between hope and potential:

When you hope, you become a passive observer waiting for others to act (as in “I hope she becomes a better manager”). When you see potential, it is an invitation for you to take action (as in “I see potential for her to become a better manager”).

When you hope, you wish for someone to change (as in “I wish she’d learn to delegate better”). When you see potential, you take responsibility to nurture, teach, and coach others to see greatness in themselves and to take the steps to achieve it (as in “I’ll coach her to delegate more so that she can spend her time creating a vision for her team”).

Oscar Pistorius is obviously exceptional. However, I’d like you to consider that the real hero in the Oscar Pistorius story is his mother. She saw the potential in him, nurtured him and encouraged him to excel despite the limitations that others may have seen. It’s a lesson for all of us to look beyond what we see in others at the present moment to envision a future that’s full of possibility for them.

Consider those you hope will become better at what they do. What opportunities do you see for them? How can you help them fulfill their potential? They may be ready for someone like you to help them to see their future.


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

2 comments on “Hope or Potential?

  1. Mary Jo,

    This story is a great story because the mother of Oscar saw potential in her son and helped him become great.  As a leader, you can do the same for your followers.  You must hope for great things from your followers, but in addition to hope, you must work as hard as you can to develop the potential they have.

    Leaders must think of the development of their followers a serious responsibility and not take it lightly.  Leaders that develop the potential in their follower are more than just good leaders, they are great leaders.

  2. Thanks Brandon. As one person said about managers, “developing your team is your job”! Unfortunately, it appears absent from most job descriptions and when it is there, nobody’s holding anyone accountable. I think, in a way, Oscar’s mother must have “held him accountable” by accepting his limitations but expecting him to excel beyond them. We could use more leaders like that!

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