Ordinary Greatness: How To Maximize Employee Potential through Culture and Leadership

Feb 16, 2016

Ordinary Greatness

People walk past greatness every day and do not notice it because of distractions, deadlines, and lengthy to-do lists, believes Pamela Bilbrey, the author of Ordinary Greatness: It's Where You Least Expect It … Everywhere*. When this happens in the workplace, she attributes it to a failure of leadership.

Learning best-practice strategies can elevate your workforce's energy and enthusiasm, and developing great talent can maximize organizational results.

Beyond the grammatical distinction–"great" is an adjective and "greatness" is a noun–there is a difference in how these words are used. For example, a high school football player may have a great season his senior year, but he may not be destined for National Football League greatness. Or a soldier may do a great job of completing drills and obeying orders but never rise to military leadership status.

In the workplace, it is common to hear "great job" or "great meeting" to ​acknowledge an accomplishment or productivity, but rarely do we hear, "Joe has brought greatness to the accounting department" or "Ellen achieved greatness during the fourth quarter."

So what exactly is greatness? As defined by Oxford Dictionaries, it is the quality of being extremely good in ability or quality and therefore admired by many people. Generally, greatness is a descriptive term reserved for world leaders, religious figures, and athletes, but that should not be the case, according to Ms. Bilbrey.

Ordinary People Do Extraordinary Things

Discovering "ordinary greatness" in unexpected people and places is the key to organizations becoming extraordinarily successful. Ms. Bilbrey defines it as follows.

  • Superior and often unrecognized characteristics, qualities, skills, or effort found in someone who may be otherwise undistinguished, and they are sometimes discovered in unexpected circumstances
  • The unrealized potential of individuals and organizations to fully utilize the passion, commitment, and energy within them

Why do some people and organizations make the leap from great to greatness, but others do not? Ms. Bilbrey attributes this to five blinders that limit their vision.

  1. External focus
  2. Busyness
  3. Preconceived notions
  4. Personal bias
  5. Compartmentalization

To get past these hurdles and maximize employee potential, company leaders must focus on two primary factors, as follows.

  • A culture that supports high performance through aligned systems and processes
  • Leadership behaviors and actions that support and cultivate excellence

Ms. Bilbrey emphasizes the importance of leadership behaviors–including visibility, accessibility, accountability, leading by example, and open communication–in setting the stage for ordinary greatness in the workplace. She also provides several strategies, such as recognition programs, training and development, and evaluating employees on potential (and not just performance), for ​encouraging ordinary greatness.

An important role of every leader is to create talent management practices with business strategy in mind, aligned with business needs, which develop and recognize talent greatness. Simply put, there is no one great leader, but there is greatness in everyone.

* Ordinary Greatness: It's Where You Least Expect It ... Everywhere is coauthored by Brian Jones and is published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2009.

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