The Power Of Giving An “A”

Michaelangelo said that in sculpting his masterpiece “David” he was merely chipping away from the marble everything that was not David. In other words, you need only to remove the excess stone to reveal the work of art within. Having just returned from Italy, I love this analogy.

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David photo by jwillier2

So I invite you to consider the practice called “giving an A” that comes from the book “The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life”, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. This practice asks us to choose the perspective of seeing everyone (even ourselves!) as holding great potential. You can give an A to anyone – your spouse, children, employer, colleagues – even strangers.

Taking the familiar classroom example first, notice that when students think of themselves as C students, they may not bother trying very hard. If the teacher expects them to do poorly, the students are likely to fulfill that expectation. What would happen if the expectation were that the students were A students?

Benjamin Zander, a world-renowned conductor and teacher, experimented with giving As to all his graduate music students at the start of school. They were instructed to pre-date a letter to him from the end of term, writing to tell him not just what they had accomplished, but who they had become in the process of living up to that A. The results were amazing. Students who had been anxious over their performance and who were playing it safe, began to see themselves differently and participated at a higher level.

I saw this in practice last year when I went to a new London Academy school for the day with a group of professional women to work with 60 girls, aged 11. Our aim was to motivate and inspire them, using a coaching style, to create a vision of their dream job when they left further education. The school’s ethos was impressive. They saw the A grade potential in every pupil. However, they faced a challenge because not all parents shared the same mindset.

Many of the girls had limited access to professional role models, let alone female ones. Remarkably, as we began to raise their expectations and uncovered their strengths, the girls visibly changed and grew in confidence. They eyes were opened – we had begun the valuable process of chipping away at ‘stone’ to unearth their own brilliance.

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A Grade Potential? photo by Terry Bain

In our work lives, it is easy to fall into the habit of judging others (and ourselves) for not living up to what we think is right and then holding that judgment as always true—in essence, labeling them C or D students. Imagine coming from a perspective of believing in a colleague’s/employee’s creativity and potential. The result can be working together towards a shared goal of excellence.

The world is much more beautiful and full of possibility when we choose to focus on the work of art within rather than the excess stone that appears to be the reality. When I was promoted to Chief Executive of the BIA, the Chairman took a risk and chose to see my potential.  As an Executive Coach, clients often tell me that someone in their team is not ready, they are a B+ but not an A. Just imagine if today you saw all your staff as A grade potential – what difference would that make to the running of your organisation?

If you are having a hard time picturing yourself or your team as A grade material, then get in contact to book an executive coaching consultation.