Great Leaders Promote Possibilities…not Probabilities

Written by on March 22, 2020

I was sitting on a plane heading back to Tulsa from a convention in San Diego. I had spoken at a national convention and was reflecting on what I could have done to improve the session I led. As I was reflecting, I overheard a conversation behind me between two strangers attempting to make small talk. 


“I missed my flight and won’t make it in time for my son’s game tonight.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Is his team any good?”

“They have only lost one game so far.”

“Is your son a good football player?”

“Well, he sure thinks he is. He keeps saying he is going to get a football scholarship to OU (Oklahoma University). I keep telling him he is just going to be disappointed and needs to quit thinking he is going to get paid to play football. There are so few guys that make it to that level.”

“I hear ya. It is pretty tough. What position does he play?”

“Nose guard. Do you know how hard that would be to get a scholarship as a nose guard?”

“Nearly impossible”.


At this point I was curious. How hard IS it to get a scholarship as a nose guard? Is it harder than the right tackle? Is he any good? What kind of degree would he want to earn? Does he want to go to an Ivy League school and his Dad is pushing OU? Maybe he won’t make D-1 but I wonder if he could play for a D-2 school? And I wonder, what does a nose guard really want to be when he is out of college? I can’t ever remember meeting someone was a nose guard. Who was the nose guard when I was going to school?


Then the next question…

 “How old is he?” 



I truly jumped out of my seat and turned around to see what someone that would destroy a kids dream at the age of 11 looked like. I was stunned. Two guys, that looked like they were in fairly good shape and probably even played back “in the day,” agreeing how silly the 11-year-old was for thinking he could make it at the college level. I thought about that exchange for the two hours it took me to get from Phoenix to Tulsa. I was really dumbstruck. What should I say to them? Don’t I owe it to the 11-year-old to at least comment about how they were being unfair to squash his dreams at such a young age? Do they have any idea how unfair it is to throw in the towel on someone before they were even 12?

I didn’t say a word. I didn’t trust myself to say it in a way that wouldn’t come out, “Hey, just because you two are losers and didn’t make it doesn’t mean he can’t!” That was, after all, all that came to mind.

So, here is the question for you. Have you ever made a decision too soon about someone you hired? Have you ever thought, there is no way they can make it but I had to hire them because they are best I could find? How many people have surprised you in your life? How many people have you hired with some skepticism, that have gone on to be valued members of your team? If the answer is one or more, then hear this. Our job as leaders is to promote the possibilities of their talent, not the probabilities. I don’t care what personality test you give or how long you have been hiring, someone will surprise you. I’ve been hiring people for 25 years and I have never been able to determine the one thing that matters the most. Do they have the burning desire to succeed? 

You could argue they are either born with it or not but I’m simply arguing you simply can’t detect it. Some people have just not been given the right set of circumstances for success. The kind of circumstances that true leaders can give their team members by helping instill confidence in them. Or the kind that includes recognizing when someone is in the wrong job and instead of firing them, they put them in a different position.

So, I guess the question we have to ask about all of the people we work with is simply this…Do you believe they deserve your high expectations of them? Not only is the answer obviously yes, but this might also explain the secret to getting extraordinary results out of ordinary people.