Many years ago, one of my mentors told me it is important to hold employees in a higher vision than they can hold of themselves. She advocated placing emphasis on their strengths, because this is where their potential exists. She said that being critical and nit-picky causes employees to focus more on their limitations and the team gets much less from them because their attention is consistently being redirected to their limitations so they are not able to explore growth opportunities in the areas where their greatest potential resides.

I took my mentor’s advice very seriously, so when I was promoted to a management role, I attempted to hold a picture of the potential of each of my coworkers that was, what I thought was a higher version of themselves.  I found that there were some employees who could rise to the occasion and there were others who were completely frustrated by this.  Their frustration happened because I wasn’t curious about what that higher version could be, I just decided what it should be based on my way of thinking.

The obvious happened next, my approach caused some employees to become frustrated because I caused them to become obsessed with trying to rise to the challenge and because of their commitment to the team, they kept missing the mark.  In my zeal for being constructive and positive I was actually doing the same thing I was trying to avoid.  I was unwittingly applying destructive pressure because I was unable to allow my coworkers to evolve in a way that was best for them.

So here are a few tips based on lessons I learned that can help you to hold your coworkers in a higher vision of themselves:

  1. Avoid projecting your strengths and weaknesses onto your employees. You will only frustrate them if you expect them to be able to do what you do well.  In other words, know your employees (KYE) and be curious about how they will transform. Know that their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, values, motivators and demotivators, and personalities all factor into their path of growth.
  2. Sometimes a weakness is exactly what it is.  A weakness!  As a leader, you may not see much improvement when you give employees opportunities to grow in their areas of vulnerability. If you are in this type of situation with a member of your team, you can shift gears and focus on the employee's strengths. This will build their confidence and morale.
  3. Don't penalize employees if they are unsuccessful at a project designed to take them past their perceived limits.  Perhaps your assessment of their potential in a particular competence area was incorrect so don't give up on them. Providing developmental opportunities is a trial and error process until you learn the employee’s strengths.
  4. If you penalize employees at performance appraisal time because they failed at a developmental opportunity designed to understand their strengths, even if they performed their mandated duties very well, you can sabotage your efforts to build a cohesive team.  Employees penalized in this way will not trust you to allow them to make mistakes as they grow.
  5. Sometimes employees have the potential to go to the next level but they don't have the will or interest.  Find out what motivates them, and depending on the reason for the lack of will, you may be able to help them tap into their reservoir of motivation, however sometimes this is not possible.  For instance, I once met a non-management employee who was a natural leader with technical competencies that were so advanced that he was able to train incoming non-management employees and even new managers, but he refused one promotion after the next.  He demonstrated the talent but did not have the will to go to the next level. This can happen if a person doesn't want the extra responsibility of supervising others or if the employee places a higher value on goals that do not include his/her career.
  6. See your team and each coworker as a whole.  Sometimes employees appointed to a position do not possess all the skills necessary to perform satisfactorily.  While right placement is optimal, sometimes it is not immediately possible, so leaders need to learn to see the entire team in a higher vision of itself, creatively harnessing the strengths of the members to manifest synergy.

Everyone is Part of the Equation

Managers are not the only ones responsible for holding coworkers in a higher vision of themselves. As an employee you may tend to complain about or be wary of your coworkers.  While sometimes your assessment may be accurate, it doesn't mean your coworkers are write offs.  It could mean that with your help, or the support of others (assuming the employee’s willingness to receive help) the employee can experience transformation.

Institutional memory can be long-term and unforgiving.  As a leader, if you do your part by forgiving coworkers for their mistakes and reaching out to support them you can build trust as employees grow into their potential.

Whether you are a leader or employee, when considering supporting the development of your fellow coworkers you should take a long, hard look in the mirror. Ask yourself if you are able to hold a vision of yourself that will allow you to achieve your potential? If you cannot do this for yourself, how can you do it for others?  Listen to your inner thoughts, are you constantly critical of yourself, or are you able to recognize your strengths?  Can your team trust you to create safe space so they can make mistakes, or are you plagued by judgement and bias? The answers to these questions will impact your ability to hold your coworkers in a higher vision than they can for themselves.

Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner.  If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.