One of the things that gets me most fired up is wasted human potential! And unfortunately that’s one thing I still see too often in our organisational worlds.

As a leader, you have tremendous power – power that can be used for good, and power that can just as easily be used for evil. Your leadership power can be used to release, or squander, human potential.

Here are three ways to contribute to a toxic culture by squandering human potential:

1. Retrench people badly. Some people say there’s no ‘good’ way to retrench people. I disagree. In the modern organisation, environments shift, business needs change, and restructures result. Most people understand that, even if they don’t like it happening to them.

A round of redundancies handled well reduces cost, reallocates resource, and refocuses the business. The people released back to industry go with their self-confidence intact, ready for a new challenge and willing to advocate for the company they just left.

Retrenchments handled badly have the opposite effect. People leave battered and bruised, often taking long months or even years to rebuild their confidence. And all the time they talk down the company that abandoned them. People left behind are almost as traumatised, wondering if that’s what will soon happen to them and if that is how they will be rewarded for loyal service. Toxicity results.

2. Ask questions of your people, and then talk over the top of them as your proceed to answer your own questions. If you think your people don’t have the answers, and that’s why you are forced to fill in the blanks, this advice would have been more useful to you a few years ago. Wait for your people to answer – you may learn something.

3. Don’t live your values. Leaders send mixed messages when one set of values is spoken about, and another set of values is demonstrated. To build a fearless culture, all leaders must model the values all day every day.

I believe we all come to work intending to do a good job. These three ways we squander human potential (and many other ways not listed here!) are not deliberate; they are thoughtless and may result from a lack of awareness. As a leader, your actions are seen, heard and experienced differently.

How well are you using your leadership power to release human potential?

Go fearlessly


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