There were twin brothers in a small Texas town. They grew up knowing nothing but poverty. One day, their parents were killed instantly in a bus accident. The brothers’ condition worsened. At age 17 they separated. Many years later a family member decided to find them for a family reunion. One of the brothers was a wealthy engineer who owned a construction company. He had a wife and three beautiful kids. The other was an alcoholic with no sense of direction for his life.
The family member asked the successful engineer, "How did your life turn out like this?" "What did you expect with a childhood like mine?" he answered.
Then she moved on to the other brother with the same question. "What did you expect with a childhood like mine?" was his answer.
Failure is a fact of life. Is it an obstacle or an opportunity in your life or the life of your company? Or is it a function of your own perception? Does perception become reality? Maybe another illustration can serve to reinforce how people perceive events.
Author Ty Hall tells the following story. “There was a case study done in 1960s Britain, when school systems were moving from grammar schools to comprehensive schools. It’s called the streaming trials. We call it ‘tracking’ here in the States. It’s separating students from A, B, C, D and so on. And the ‘A students’ get the tougher curriculum, the best teachers, etc.
They took, over a three-month period, D-level students, gave them A’s, told them they were ‘A’s,’ told them they were bright, and at the end of this three-month period, they were performing at A-level. And, of course, the heartbreaking, flip side of this study, is that they took the ‘A students’ and told them they were ‘D’s.’ And that’s what happened at the end of that three-month period…[And] a crucial part of this case study was that the teachers were duped too. The teachers didn’t know a switch had been made. They were simply told, ‘These are the “A-students,” these are the “D-students.”’ And that’s how they went about teaching them and treating them.”
It is possible that the story above is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If someone thinks they are dumb, they are dumb. If they think they are smart, they are smart. Perception and how the situation is viewed by the individual person becomes the key influencer in how things turn out.
As Hall goes on to say when students thought they were in the top one percent, they strove to do better; when they thought they were stupid, they acted like it. Self-perception, actually, positive self-perception is the key to maximizing performance.
The exact meaning of the word “educate” comes from the root word “educe,” which means: "to bring forth what is within, to bring out high potential." Education, coupled with the environment, define to a large extent one’s self-perception, thus potential.
John Maxwell, the prolific author and speaker says “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” No truer words were spoken. You are and will become what you perceive yourself to be.
This is not to say that any individual or external situation is to blame for the poor performance or less than stellar performance of your company. What it does say is that reinforcing potential directly affects output. As a manager, or anyone in a leadership position, you should positively reinforce and—more importantly—educate your employees. By properly training an employee in their position at your organization and boosting their confidence in the work they do, their perceived potential and the quality of their output will go up. Simply speaking, this will “bring forth” the high potential from within.
As an individual in your business, you can’t expect external reinforcement—you have to create it yourself. You must learn and understand your role in your job and personal life; educate yourself to build confidence in what you do. Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Be positive and optimistic in your perception of business matters and things will take care of themselves.
Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.