One common refrain I hear in the empowerment/leadership development realm, is that we need to “let people develop their own potential.”
The implication is the individual knows best how to grow their own abilities.
How often is this actually true though?
I know I’ve had the opportunity to grow into the organizer and person I am now because I had numerous people at different stages in my life pushing me to exceed even my own expectations.
This idea of “the learner knows best” also fosters an individual-centric model, instead of a community of teaching where everyone contributes to personal development.
I think it’s time our social change training modules take a cue from those dedicated folks in the K-12 education sphere.
What K-12 education can teach us about supporting changemakers
What I’ve discovered, through my incredible partner who teaches 1st grade, is that exemplary K-12 educators are those who both push for and support a culture of excellence.
In this case “excellence” means to demonstrate a high level of mastery of a certain topic (whether it be reading or facilitating a meeting) independent of test scores, comparisons, or statistical averages.
This model also acknowledges that people will have different background experiences and may need more coaching to reach “excellence.”
Also, in this context we should take into account each person’s needs and aspirations at the moment. Maybe they need just a bit more time to reach where they want to be, but they should know we will always seek to push for and support them to achieve excellence.
We don’t need to be mean and punish people if they don’t reach a state of excellence, but instead we need to dedicate more of our energy to making sure they can.
We must never “give up” on someone and think they cannot achieve something because “they just aren’t good at X [e.g. public speaking or coordinating].”
If either the individual themselves, or the people around them, have this mentality of “I’m just not good at X,” then it’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Remember, not everyone has had a mentor, family member, or friend who consistently encouraged them to do more than what they believe even for themselves.
That’s why we have to create a culture of excellence where everyone expects that they will push themselves AND have the support of those around them to help them in this pursuit.
Whether this is in our trainings, our campaign teams, or with the community members we work with, we must remember that we don’t know what someone’s capabilities will be so we have to aim to stretch their skills.
I may wish I consistently had this mindset of not expecting the extent of someone’s capabilities, I know sometimes I haven’t given every person I’ve worked with the chance to exceed what I think they can do.
I may believe I’m open to someone beating my expectations, but if I don’t give them the resources or have challenging conversations about where to improve, then I’m short-changing both of our potential.
I’m lucky that I have a very supportive teacher in my life who has taught me the value of always “pushing for the best” out of every person, including myself.
Have you ever been in a position where you aimed for excellence yourself or supported others? Or maybe a time looking back you might have wished to do more? Leave a comment below!
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