This was taught to me by
my South Dakota Native American teacher eight years ago and I have been thinking
about it ever since, particularly in relation to my work with business leaders
in the UK and the USA. At the time I was working extremely hard in four
companies who wanted us to help optimise the potential of their directors. For
me at the time, giving was easy. We were highly in demand and highly successful
financially. Receiving was not as easy. I noticed that I felt tired and was
grumpy with friends who tried to support me. Even worse, I believed that I did
not have any spare time and was a “busy-ness” rather than a “human being”.
Even worse, when I did take time out and went into nature, I found myself
staring at the beauty of a tree, knowing in my head that the tree was beautiful,
but not feeling it. I knew then, that I was badly out of balance and needed to
learn how to receive again. Otherwise how could I really give of my best? I
realised that I was feeling drained and suffering from what I advise my clients
to guard against. Because I was not taking responsibility for nurturing my own
potential, I was in danger of losing it.
argued that much of the trouble in the world was because we try
ineffective ways to satisfy real human needs. In our society, many try to
satisfy deep-seated needs to be loved, acknowledged and appreciated through
money, status and being busy. And the less fulfilled we feel, the more money and
status we try to achieve until it becomes an addiction where more and more gives
us less and less. I also believe that a deep-seated human need is to find and
develop what we are best at. Joseph Campbell
said that the most important thing in life is to find and follow
“We’re so engaged
in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner
value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all
I would agree, except
with the caveat that one’s “bliss” should not harm others.
When we talk about
nurturing potential, we often mean nurturing the best in us, or healing aspects
of ourselves that stop us from being effective or happy. However, the real
question in my mind is what are we nurturing? Is what we are nurturing
really right for us and for the greater good?
At the start of the
Conference on Sustainable Development, at the end of August this year, Thabo
Mbeki, president of South Africa said it was time to come together to work not
only on cleaning up the planet, but also on narrowing the gap between the rich
and the poor. He said that it was time to re-evaluate “the savage principle of
survival of the fittest.” Now, more than ever, after the collapse of Enron and
Worldcom because of dishonesty and greed, we are aware of the shadow side of the
system we live in. These are the negative effects of competition, ambition and
materialism. We are brought up to be competitive, to win over others and are
valued according to our financial wealth and status. Is it surprising then that
some people have developed their potential along self interested lines?
What with global warming,
unstable economies and September 11th, we are being invited to
re-evaluate the kinds of potential we nurture in others and ourselves. This
means being more conscious about the choices we make about life and how much
freedom we have to act. It is also influenced by the wisdom, maturity and
humanity of those we allow to govern us. This in turn, depends on how they have
been nurtured themselves.
In the twenty years that
I have been working with business and other leaders, I have discovered that how
they have been nurtured or deprived, makes an enormous difference to the quality
of the decisions they make and the ways in which they treat people.
Many of my clients are
millionaires. Collectively they have extraordinary power over the fates of
organisations, the environment and livelihoods of thousands of people, not to
mention the communities they serve, or abuse. However, as a CEO of a major
global business with a good environmental track record said, “ unless I am
making a positive and meaningful difference to the world, all I am doing is
banging golden nails in my coffin.” I have come across many people who are
genuinely making a positive difference. In the course of my work, I ask people
to talk about the history of their lives. This is to find out what is the
essence, or the area of genius that each person has and wants to develop so that
she or he can really give of their best and continue to do so. In every case,
the same thing has made a positive difference to them.
What really helped them
was the presence of one or more significant people in their lives who had
recognised their worth and took time to encourage them. It could have been a
teacher or a relative, or a boss or senior colleague. But the words are all very
similar; he or she “made me feel I mattered and that I could do amazing
things. He/she spent time with me showing me what I could do. I did better than
I could ever have imagined. I have never forgotten.” Those people, who have
been supported on their life paths, are also the people who do the same for
their employees. It is not just something that is tacked onto a training
programme or a one off event. It is a belief in the value of human beings and
their potential and therefore a way of life. Developing potential is not just to
do with personal development; it is also learning the skills and expertise
necessary to do specific kinds of work. More than that, it is the collective
ability of human beings to make intelligent and thoughtful decisions that create
In my book, “The Human Face of Corporate Governance”
, I argued that ‘governance’ was a human decision-making process
between investors, boards and executives about the fate of companies,
organisations and countries. I also suggested that there were four levels of
governance, self governance – concerning each of us, inter personal
governance, concerning how we relate to each other and make group decisions,
inter group governance, decisions negotiated between representative groups and
systemic governance – the effect of the system on how we govern. Some of us
have more potential to operate at some of these levels than others.
In the work that we do
with boards and top executives, we have found that nurturing personal and team
potential, makes a significant improvement to achieving successful results. For
example, a CEO totally changed his style from being aggressive and critical to
that of mentoring and encouraging his people. From a position where he was given
six months to get his act together or leave, he eventually become CEO of a large
international company. Another Director discovered that she was in the wrong job
even though she was doing well. She changed her role and her company and found
that she was not only very happy, but achieving much more than she dreamed.
A board of directors in a
family company were not making decisions because they were arguing all the time.
The chairperson asked us to enable them to work better together. We worked
individually with each person and the board as a whole. As a result an
environment was created where people really listened to each other. They were
able to support and challenge the executive team. The company not only won
prizes for being the best employer of the year, but also increased its profits
and grew successfully. People loved working there.
Whether we are able to
work in a positive environment or not, makes a great difference to the extent to
which we can nurture potential. However, all of us live in a stressful world
with many challenges. Nurturing potential is now more important than ever. But
the kind of potential we need to nurture also needs to include developing our
inner resources to deal with uncertainty, instability and sometimes despair and
depression as well as our ability to experience joy, love and beauty. Only then
can we use our knowledge and expertise to the real benefit of others.
Nurturing real potential is the celebration of what is humanly best in us. This can come from providing an environment in which we are loved, acknowledged and can flower and grow. However, it is important also to remember that some of the best life lessons come from having to face and deal with adversity. If I had not suffered under a tyrannical regime, I would not have understood why power should be used wisely or have as much compassion for people. Nurturing potential is not all sweetness and light. After all, some of the best plants are nourished by compost.
 Manfred Max-Neef, “Human Scale Development”, Apex Press 1991
 Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth” Doubleday, 1988, Pg 6
 Lynn McGregor “The Human Face of Corporate Governance”, Palgrave 2000
McGregor is a recognised leader in the field of corporate governance and
executive leadership. She is an experienced coach, mentor and lecturer and has
significantly improved the performance of many chairpersons, CEOs, executive and
Lynn's clients include such household names as: Allied Dunbar - Dixons - IBM - Cadbury Schweppes - Mars - Reuters - Consignia - BP - British Post Office and Hermes Asset Management
Her work with chairpersons and CEOs is designed to upgrade the human aspects of corporate governance to a level where they integrate successfully with existing business expertise, so resulting in better decision-making and competitive advantage.
In September 2000 her book The Human Face of Corporate Governance was published by Palgrave, the business division of MacMillan and became a best-seller in its field. Four years earlier her Homage to Hope, the story of her childhood in South Africa and her experiences of the apartheid regime was published by ASPEN. described at www.conts.com/Homage.html.
She is also the designer of the Inner Quest Game, based on the Inner Quest activities she developed from her studies of Native North American culture. Details may be seen on the ASPEN website at www.conts.com/Innerquest.html.