The Original Masterpiece: How to restore the hidden potential in others

It is my belief that we are all paintings by a grand master. Some of us are Picassos. Some of us are Monets. Some of us are Turners. There are different styles and genres, but in each of us we can see the brush strokes of a genius… if we are of a mind to look.

But can you imagine if you were a Picasso hanging in a gallery full of Turners? Or a Jason Pollock in a gallery full of Rembrandts? In those galleries everyone would walk past you. No one would stand and stare. And one day, the gallery manager might feel sorry for you and hatch a plan for your restoration. With their well-intentioned yet clumsy efforts, you are gradually over-painted. A dash of orange here. A spot of blue there. Stroke by stroke and year by year, you become a Jason Pollock …in the style of Rembrandt. A Picasso…in the style of Turner. A Van Gogh… in the style of Monet. A poor and confused man-made artefact.

Healthy v Unhealthy Challenges

I used this analogy in a recent coaching session with a client who had lost confidence in their unique capabilities. Having worked for many years as a technical expert they suddenly found themselves in a senior leadership role. The organisation had tried to mould them to the new role, but it had simply robbed the individual of their authentic strengths and drained their self-esteem. They had become a Picasso in the style of Turner. The longer it went on, the more they blamed themselves for being a poor copy; the more they forgot their neglected strengths.

How do you restore such hidden masterpieces? It starts with the coach’s belief.

The coach must believe that under the layers of conditioning the original masterpiece still exists. Often, there is no evidence left of the underlying possibility; it has become completely hidden. The person themselves no longer believes it exists. Therefore, the coach must have more belief in them than they have in themselves. How do we conjure up such blind faith?

We do this by remembering the people who had blind faith in us. The teacher who made us believe again that we could do algebra after all. The sports coach who made us believe that we were the best goalkeeper, not the best striker, in the team. The manager at work who rescued us from a career blind alley because they glimpsed some other sparkle in our eye.

As we become more experienced, it is easy to lose this naive faith in the ultimate potential of those around us. We become clever cynics who, in the words of George Meredith, ‘are only happy in making the world as barren for others as they have made it for themselves’. We drive deeper and deeper into a mine shaft of thinking in which the darkness becomes ever more accurate, narrow and correct.

So as you work with your colleagues and clients this week, I challenge you to seek the original masterpiece inside each of them. I challenge you to believe a little bit more in what might be possible and believe a little bit less in what is already known. I challenge you to see the brush strokes of the original grand master and cut through the many fabrications that are not the underlying reality of who they are. In this way, your belief will restore potential and your blind faith will strip away the self-fulfilling limitations we impose on our world.

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