How To Help Talented Employees Reach Their Full Potentialby@vinitabansal
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How To Help Talented Employees Reach Their Full Potential

by Vinita BansalMarch 21st, 2024
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Managers can empower employees by overcoming self-doubt, providing actionable feedback, boosting motivation, and implementing effective managerial strategies to unlock their full potential and inspire consistent excellence in performance.
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It’s frustrating as a manager to see a highly talented employee waste their potential. They have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do well, so why aren’t they performing as well as they could?

They have shown they’re capable more than once—solved problems creatively, drove large projects to completion, and took risks that are necessary for future success. But what should you do if their performance is not consistent—they’re highly unpredictable.

When faced with this situation, many managers feel powerless—when they don’t even understand what’s preventing their employees from putting in their best effort. How can they do anything to help?

This perceived sense of lack of control over their employees' performance often leads to destructive behaviors—blaming, complaining or denying opportunities that they need the most.

Pulling back focus from people who need attention creates a downward spiral of unfulfilled potential, unmet expectations, and even more frustration which pushes them further down instead of lifting them.

If your employees are unpredictable or inconsistent in their performance or if they are not reaching their potential, helping them bridge this gap is your responsibility as a manager. Don’t assume there’s something wrong with them or that they simply don’t care. Many factors play a role in determining how people put their talents to use.

Great leaders can see the greatness in others when they can’t see it themselves and lead them to their highest potential they don’t even know.

— Roy T. Bennett

Here are the four practices I have used to help my people rise higher by tapping into their unused potential and enabling them to do more than they ever dreamt to be possible:

Help them realize their true strengths

Self-doubt is one of the most prevalent feelings at work which can prevent people from reaching their full potential. People who deal with feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy often fail to put their talents to use.

They refuse to take up challenging work with the fear of not meeting expectations.

They procrastinate and keep putting things off with the worry that even their best effort is not good enough.

While you see them as a smart, talented and high potential person, all they see in themselves is a fraud.

Instead of recognizing their achievements and acknowledging their skills and abilities, imposter syndrome makes them attribute their success to luck, their ability to work harder than everyone else, knowing the right people, being in the right place at the right time, or simply their interpersonal charms like being funny, friendly or witty that makes them more likable.

This makes them undermine their experience and expertise. They fail to realize their full potential because their time and energy goes into hiding their shortcomings as opposed to utilizing their strengths.

Help your employee bridge this confidence gap by:

  1. Show them what they’re capable of—talk about their strengths, skills and abilities that enabled past performance.
  2. Share your own fears and insecurities. This will make them see that imposter syndrome is a universal phenomenon and they’re not alone in feeling this way.
  3. Set clear goals and discuss an action plan. Daily progress towards their goals will amplify the value of consistent small steps instead of trying to take giant leaps.

If your employee isn’t reaching their full potential because of self-doubt, give them the occasional confidence boost by enabling them to recognize their strengths and giving them the opportunity to put them to use.

We all have patterns and defaults, including in the roles we play at work. The better you can accept others for who they are, the easier it will be to work with them. Flexibility will help provide an environment where everyone feels accepted for their unique strengths and skills.

— Darcy Luoma

Give them action oriented feedback

If you’ve been giving a lot of feedback to your team members, but they still aren’t reaching their potential, most likely the way you’re giving feedback is wrong.

Just because you have said something multiple times does not mean your message has landed right. What you say matters more than how many times you say it.

When giving feedback, do you state:

  • Which behaviors led to successful outcomes?
  • What did they do specifically that helped them achieve positive results?

Vague feedback can do your employee more damage than good. When they don’t know how to apply your feedback, it can leave them feeling misaligned, confused and disoriented.

Success can be replicated only when your employee knows which behaviors to repeat. Give them action oriented feedback—use the start, stop and continue practice:

  • What do they need to start doing that they aren’t already doing?
  • Which behaviors aren’t working well that must be stopped right away?
  • What’s working well for them that they must continue practicing?

For example:

*If their new system architecture design was very detail oriented and had covered fault tolerance, scalability, performance and other critical measures, specifically call this out in your feedback. Appreciate them for proactively thinking about these things instead of being an afterthought.*

If they came up with a creative way to solve a problem by challenging traditional thinking, point out their ability to think differently and step outside their comfort zone.

Giving specific feedback will enable your employees to act on it potentially leading to achieving excellence in their work and reaching for their potential.

Feedback is the bridge to effectively connect lesson-learned from the past to the future performance and potential.

— Pearl Zhu

Take a pulse of their motivation

Motivation determines not only whether your team member starts a task, but also whether they stick with it when it gets challenging or difficult. Without motivation, they fail to put effort and energy into making things work. Their mind is tuned out because something that’s bothering them tells them that they simply don’t care. \

A lot of things can leave them feeling unmotivated:

  1. Going through a bad phase in their personal life.
  2. Being passed up for a promotion that they believed they deserved.
  3. Repeating the same kind of work and not getting exciting new opportunities.
  4. Working long hours but doing less impactful work.
  5. Dealing with a difficult employee who’s getting on their nerves, causing them stress and anxiety.
  6. Feeling unappreciated and undervalued for their contributions.
  7. Mental exhaustion and burnout from overwork.

The good thing about motivation is that it’s a temporary feeling and something that’s completely within their control. If your employee isn’t reaching their full potential because they appear demotivated, don’t ignore it. You can do a lot to help them get over it by taking the time to dig deeper into what’s making them feel this way.

Discuss and identify what’s eating up into their motivation. You’ll have to play a little bit of detective here since they are most likely to disagree with your observation and portray everything’s fine even when the issue is taking up a lot of their mental space thereby preventing them from doing their best work.

There’s no one way to turn things around for them—the solution will depend on why they are feeling demotivated in the first place. However, there are few things you must do to ensure your discussion is productive:

  1. Don’t assume you already know how they’re feeling. Show curiosity to understand.

  2. Don’t push too hard if they aren’t willing to share it yet. Just let them know that you’re around to listen whenever they feel prepared.

  3. Don’t show irritation or judgment in your voice. Only show your support.

  4. Don’t take it personally. How they’re feeling may have nothing to do with you as a manager.

  5. If you understand the problem, don’t provide solutions. Help them find the path forward by asking good questions and guiding them to reach their own conclusions.

Lack of motivation is not your employees' mistake nor is it a permanent condition. Ups and downs are a part of life and people shouldn’t be expected to always be at their best. Treat it as a passing phase and show your support to help them get through it.

When you encourage others, you boost their self-esteem, enhance their self-confidence, make them work harder, lift their spirits and make them successful in their endeavors. Encouragement goes straight to the heart and is always available. Be an encourager. Always.

— Roy T. Bennett

Look inward to your own behaviors and actions

If you have done everything and still don’t see much improvement in their work, don’t rule out the fact that the problem may have nothing to do with them, it’s you.

How do you come across to others? How do they perceive your behaviors and actions?

How do you react to mistakes and failures?

How do you handle disagreements?

Are you fair and unbiased in how you treat your people?

Do you empower them to think on their own and make decisions or do you feel the need to have a final say in everything?

Good management uplifts people and helps them shine. Bad management pulls them down and prevents them from reaching their potential.

For example:

They may have great problem solving abilities, but every time they bring up a solution that challenges traditional thinking, you disregard their opinion and tell them to stick to old methods. What does your behavior tell them—that their opinion doesn't matter, which discourages them and they stop thinking differently.

They may enjoy working independently and want to grow on the individual contributor path, but you keep pushing them to take lead responsibilities. Being coerced to do work that they don’t enjoy or not getting sufficient time to practice skills they want to put to use can leave them feeling frustrated, unfulfilled and dissatisfied.

If you really want your employee to fulfill their potential, take a moment to think about how your behaviors and actions might be getting in the way. Accepting you’re the source of the problem is hard—only people with high self-awareness and willingness to change can do so. People who are blind to their flaws will only complain and blame while doing nothing to bring about a positive change.

People are the foundation of any company’s success. The primary job of each manager is to help people be more effective in their job and to grow and develop.

— Eric Schmidt


  1. It’s hard as a manager to see highly skilled people waste their potential. You know they’re skilled because they have occasionally delivered a great performance. So what could be preventing them from performing consistently?
  2. People who deal with imposter syndrome let fear and self-doubt get in the way of their success. They give up opportunities and fail to perform because of their self-limiting beliefs. Help such people reach their potential by reminding them of their strengths and giving them the opportunities to put them to use.
  3. Appreciating your employees' work gives them the encouragement to do better, but the feedback must point out which behaviors to repeat so that they understand how to replicate success.
  4. People may feel demotivated for various reasons which can prevent them from doing their best work. Identify what’s bothering them and taking up their mental space. Work with them to find the path forward instead of feeling stuck in one place.
  5. One last place to look if your employee isn’t reaching their potential is “you.” Watch your behaviors and actions—they might be getting in the way preventing your employee from reaching their full potential.

This story was previously published here.

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