“You get the best efforts from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within.” – Bob Nelson

I had an extraordinary experience this past week, attending the annual “Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony” at my alma mater, Newport Harbor High School. (Go, Sailors!)

The purpose of this annual ceremony is to honor past graduates and faculty members of the renowned secondary school (founded in 1930) who have found outstanding success in their own lives and made a big difference in the lives of others.  A few of the honorees were deceased or incapacitated, and were represented by family members who spoke for and about them.

All of them are amazing citizens, leaders and teachers who have made a profound and lasting impact in a variety of fields.  The graduate honorees included two respected actors (Stuart Cooper and Ted McGinley), Greg Laurie, pastor and founder of one of the largest Christian churches in the USA, David Thompson, a respected California Court of Appeals Judge, Dr. Sandi Smith, a lauded Communications Professor at Michigan State, Marshall Duffield, inventor of the beloved little “Duffy” electric boats that now number 14,000 and counting, and Dr. Mahlon DeLong, a noted scientist whose work has bettered the lives of thousands of people suffering from neurological diseases. The latter couldn’t be with us that night because he was giving a lecture at the Harvard Medical School!

The theme that was consistently repeated by all of these accomplished, humble and witty honorees was this: Most were lucky to be called “mediocre” during their high school years.   None of them imagined they were destined for greatness.  The spark that took hold inside of them and enabled them to excel was lit when one of their teachers focused attention on them and expressed belief in them, even when they didn’t yet believe in themselves.

This stayed with me as I finished my coaching week, listening to a number of my clients complain about their family members, team members and friends not behaving the way they wanted them to – in other words, “under-performing” according to their standards.

What if, I wondered, instead of focusing on their shortcomings, my clients focused on their potential for greatness, just as the wise faculty members had focused on these honorees’ potential, even when the honorees themselves were behaving in less than stellar ways and had no clue as to the spark of greatness that lay within them?

One of my clients lamented in a text that “[My teammate] will take zero coaching/help/suggestions from me.” Meaning, I guess, that her teammate wouldn’t do what SHE wanted her to do in the way SHE wanted it done.  My client said she felt exhausted and overwhelmed with the responsibility for her growing team, and just wanted them to step up and “be Leaders.”  But her message suggested that she wasn’t really viewing them as “Leaders” who could be trusted to lead, but more like “staff” who needed to be supervised and told what to do.

Contrast her approach of trying to push someone to be their BEST with the way the late Robert Wentz, a noted actor and Newport Harbor High’s revered longtime drama teacher, chose to gently inspire someone in whom he recognized potential greatness.  Popular TV and movie actor Ted McGinley (Class of ‘76), shared how Mr. Wentz craftily lured him into taking his first taste of acting.

Mr. Wentz had asked him to try out many times, but being a “jock,” Ted thought that acting in school plays would make him a laughingstock with his teammates, and adamantly refused.  So one day, just before English class, Mr. Wentz pulled Ted aside and told him, “Here’s what we’re going to do.  I am going to pretend to bate you and disrespect you. You are going to pretend to get angry. We’re going to have a heated argument in front of the class. Then you are going to storm out of the room.  Make it real. Ok, let’s go.”

Not having a clue what it was all about, but wanting to please the teacher he loved and respected, Ted did as instructed.  A convincing mock fight ensued and Ted gave it his all to make it “real.” Finally, he stormed out of the room and waited outside. Through the door, he heard Mr. Wentz tell the stunned class to write an essay about what they had just witnessed.  “And I didn’t have to write one! I was hooked on acting from that moment,” Ted laughed.

That small incident changed the course of Ted’s life and gave millions of viewers (including me) of hit TV shows like Happy Days, Married with Children, The West Wing, and Mad Men, as well as many movies, the pleasure of watching him do what he loves for a living.

Who do YOU know who is not performing up to their capability?  Who has untapped potential for greatness that YOU can see?

What are you doing about it? Are you nagging them, criticizing them and letting them know they are falling short of YOUR expectations? Or are you encouraging them with, “I see greatness in you.  I believe in you!”

Psychological studies have proven time and again that people usually live up to or down to our expectations of them.  We have to EXPECT THE BEST if we want them to be able to bring out the best in themselves.

One graduate honoree shared a memorable quote from a favorite teacher: “Everyone on earth has a gift. They just open their gifts at different times.” 

Be patient. Hang in there with them as they struggle to find their footing. Help them pick themselves up and dust themselves off when they have a defeat. Cheer them on when they have a small victory.  Allow them to build a fire from within and share their special gift with the world whenever they are ready. Then stand back and prepare to be amazed!

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To schedule a F*R*E*E* HOUR of phone coaching that will help them clarify their Big Goals and get into ACTION to make this their BEST year yet, have them email me at caroll@practicalprosperitycoach.com or call 888-503-8145 to schedule their session.