Studies have shown that typically employees withhold more than 40% of their potential, and as many as 70% of employees are not actively engaged in their work.  That’s a lot of untapped potential. Interestingly, these numbers have remained steady for several decades.

As a leader, you need to learn to tap into this well of your employee’s “reserve” to maximize the potential and performance of your team. It’s like tapping into a maple tree in the spring to collect gallons of sap (40:1 to be exact).  You know that it will take some effort, but if you tend to it, strain it, and boil it down, eventually you will reach the full sweet potential, and truly rich value of maple syrup.

WHY is tapping into potential so important?  Strictly from a business perspective, unused potential equals dollars lost; lost production, lost quality, losses in safety, increased absenteeism and higher health insurance claims costs, to name a few.  What’s even more elusive to calculate is the lost potential. When employees aren’t giving you their full potential, you are losing out on their creativity and innovation, cooperation, participation, teamwork will be more difficult to attain, and you will find employees working in body, but not spirit.

In order to understand how you can tap into that unmet potential, you just need to turn to old-fashioned psychology, presented by Abraham H. Maslow in his 1943 paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation”.  We’ve known for over 70 years that once the basic human needs have been met, it’s a sense of love/belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization that become most vital to human well-being.

More recently, author Liz Wiseman in 2010 Multipliers’ said that people want “Freedom, Learning and Challenge”, and Daniel Pink, in his 2013 book Drive, reminds us that “The Motivation Trifecta includes: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose”; both modern-day examples of Maslow’s highest level of human motivation, Self-Actualization.

The need to feel respected, valued, and connected, and have opportunities to be creative, solve problems and achieve are human needs that can’t be ignored, and haven’t changed over time.

When you address these deep human needs, you begin to unlock the best your team has to offer.  Being or becoming a more effective leader starts with becoming aware of how your choices, decisions and actions impact how your employees feel about working for you, their desire to be actively engaged and committed to your organization.

You may want to ask yourself:

  • Do I allow for autonomy, encourage creativity, and empower people to be their best?
  • Do I support their growth, and provide opportunities for mastery?

  • Do I provide purpose, and foster a sense of belonging on my team?

  • Do I make time for my team, do they feel welcome to talk to me?

  • Do I communicate that they are valued, respected?

  • Do I recognize them when they do something well?

  • Do I take time to ask, “how can I help”?

  • Do I thank people in person? Do I know everyone by name?
  • Do I remember important events in their lives (births, weddings, losses)?

These actions, interactions and ideas are vital to the well-being of your team and your organization. These seemingly insignificant, and inexpensive (if not FREE) things MATTER! Fostering relationships, encouraging, guiding and recognizing others; being this kind of person MATTERS.  Making good value-based decisions about how to spend your time MATTERS!  Nurturing an environment that supports a culture where employees feel connected unlocks their reserve and maximizes their potential.  It all MATTERS.