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How to Develop Employees to their Full Potential

It’s time for us to step away from the mundane challenges and ask a really big and bold question.

We’ve been talking about legendary companies who can afford to hire geniuses and subsidize their personal exploits on company time. What about real-world employers, like Axero, who can barely afford to hire competent people? Forget hack days and NGO sabbaticals. We need all hands on deck!

So, the question is this: can we too have super rock star employees? Can we have a prophet in our own country? Or do we have to wait until we grow the company, take it public, sell it, and make it someone else’s problem?

You know this is a rhetorical question because you already have these employees. We know we do. We also know we didn’t get them as accomplished geniuses. We got them when they were still looking to launch a career. And we gave them that chance and a little extra. And that’s why they’re still with us today, even though a big-name company would hire them in a heartbeat.

So, what happened to take these employees from promising to delivering? I am not asking how they became successful. I just want to know how they became so good? Were they at the right place at the right time? Did they put in 10,000 hours? Or…?

As I read bios of folks at the top of their game, I keep stumbling upon the same plot twist. Can you guess what it is? Let me tell you one more.

It’s about Fox News former leading lady Megyn Kelly. At age 33, Megyn was a successful trial lawyer. But, like the IT Engineer from the previous post, she felt that she was not using all of her abilities. As she put it, she was in her “zone of excellence,” but not in her “zone of genius.”

After she made that discovery, Megyn took a massive pay cut to become a news reporter. Her reporting of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team rape case got the attention of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes.

One day, Ailes called her into his office and said: “Go out there and make some mistakes… And don’t be afraid of taking risks. You’re trying too hard. And I have news for you. You don’t need to be perfect. No one will like you if you are, by the way.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Megyn Kelly made a name for herself as a brilliant and courageous reporter. In 2016, she moderated several presidential debates. She famously confronted Donald Trump with her question about women.

“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals…Does that sound to you like a temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton that you are part of the war on women?”

(Her question was intended to paint Trump as a pig. You could argue that he cleverly reframed the conversation by anchoring it to Rosie O’Donnell, but that's another topic all in itself.)

During the ensuing media war, Megyn amply proved that she could handle risk, adversity, controversy, and outright slander. It seemed as though she matched Trump at his own ratings game.

In 2017, as she was leaving the network, Fox News reported that, “Trump’s attacks on Kelly during the campaign helped turn her into an international celebrity and she was featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair and other publications. She also just published a best-selling memoir, ‘Settle for More.’” 1

Sounds like a star to me. She clearly had the potential all along. But what do you think was the turning point of her journalistic career? To me, it was that moment in Ailes’ office when he told her to go make some mistakes.

This echoes another story I’ve read, about Facebook COO and former VP of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, Sheryl Sandberg. The story goes that Google co-founder Larry Page personally thanked her for making a costly mistake. He said it was proof that she was taking the kinds of risks that would allow Google to fulfill its ambitions.

You can practice all you want, but you are not a star until someone shows faith in you. Until someone in a position of power says: “You are worth the risk. You are worth the loss. Go out there and make mistakes. I have your back.”

Same with Axero. Our best employees did not become the amazing stars they are today until we trusted and empowered them to fully own their jobs. Of course, they must earn that trust first. You can delegate authority too soon, and I’ve made that mistake. However, if you are to make a star of your own, inevitably there comes a moment when you must hand them the keys to the kingdom. Don’t miss it.

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If you like being a mentor, you might like my book, because it’s about helping people succeed.

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FOOTNOTES

1. Why Megyn Kelly is leaving Fox News for NBC by Howard Kurtz, January 03, 2017

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Tim Eisenhauer
About Tim Eisenhauer
Tim is the author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's also a co-founder and president of Axero, a technology company that makes intranet software for businesses. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, and other top publications.

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