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Making the Strong Business Case for Driving Human Brilliance When human brilliance thrives we create positive change — in the world and for an organization.

By Fasika Melaku

Key Takeaways

  • As a leader, make mindful decisions to craft spaces for individuals to reach their fullest potential.
  • Remember, human brilliance is different for everyone.
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Twenty years ago, when I first worked with my current CEO at a different company, she taught me what it truly meant to always think about the human element first. When she promoted me, she launched my professional journey, but she also did something I'll never forget — she invited me over for wine.

At the time, she was a director, and I had only just started as a manager. I was one of two African Americans working at the company and an immigrant who grew up sleeping on dirt floors. I often felt that reality with others, but never with her. I remember asking myself, "Does she not see that we're so different?"

Her invitation was the first time I saw someone create a space for human brilliance. Fast-forward 20+ years, and she is at it again. As my current CEO, she is still creating spaces for me to do my best work, fueling my career to Senior Vice President of HR and Chief Learning Officer at Denny's. When human brilliance thrives, we create positive change: where we sit, work, and live in the world and for an organization.

Related: How To Attract (And Encourage) Brilliance In Your Workplace

We do our best when brilliant

Human brilliance is different for everyone. Like a stone polished to its gemlike core, bringing out an individual's brilliance is smoothing away externally imposed ideas to uncover raw, authentic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We bring out our strengths from that essence and polish them to our ultimate brilliance.

Human brilliance is not just what we get right, but all the times we fail, realize where we went wrong, and learn. Years ago, we ran the "Surprise and Delight" campaign, a marketing initiative that included surprising our guests by paying for their meals. By leaving extra cash in their pockets and treating them with unexpected kindness, we put our guests in a position to do better, achieve more and positively impact more people in their day.

We considered the campaign successful, but reflecting, we realized we could have done more. Our current CEO joined the organization and established a new level of thinking: impact comes when those who create impact — our teams. She asked how we surprised and delighted the cooks, servers and staff. By not considering the rest of the team, that successful campaign missed an opportunity to create more points of exponential brilliance across the organization.

Related: Eight Steps To Build Teams That Last

Make the most of time and money

In my most challenging moments — heartache, illness, even death — I often realize the preciousness of time. These moments teach us that any time spent on being our most brilliant selves is an invaluable investment into who we can become and the impact we can have on the world. By helping others realize the value of investing time in developing their brilliance, I simultaneously help myself realize mine.

Time is a precious commodity in business, and the cost of capital has reached an all-time high. Not harnessing the full potential of a team's talents is a lost financial opportunity. When leaders focus on enhancing the brilliance within their organization, they unlock a competitive edge. It starts with just one person believing they can make a positive difference; this inspires others, creating a domino effect. When individual brilliance is connected and amplified, we cultivate collective wisdom, accelerate innovation, boost performance, and ultimately increase profitability.

Related: Seven Ways You Can Establish Loyalty (And Even Love) In Your Team

Brilliance thrives in safety

Brilliance thrives in environments where everyone feels safe to authentically express their ideas and identity — to learn, fail, and cry ugly tears. When an organization provides such an ecosystem, it evolves into a community, and its people find a common purpose in doing their best work together. Upon this stage, we create places of brilliance. To build this foundation:

1. Help remove self-limiting beliefs

Many of us struggle with self-limiting beliefs that can hinder our ability to support ourselves or contribute effectively to others. I was recently diagnosed with chronic self-doubt. When leadership once presented me with an advancement opportunity, better pay, and an improved title that could open future doors, I hesitated and, ultimately, said no. This was not for a lack of qualifications but rather my self-limiting beliefs preventing me from fully committing to my organization and unleashing the full scope of human brilliance within me.

By cultivating gratitude and resilience, we can tackle these doubts head-on and inspire our teams to develop these crucial qualities. When facing self-limiting beliefs, I practice pausing and engaging in deep reflection. I ask myself, "What's preventing my progress right now, and how can I navigate past it to unlock my true potential?" Acknowledging obstacles and actively seeking ways to surmount them encourages growth.

Related: Why Gratitude is the Missing Piece to Your Success

2. Understand the existing framework

Every group of people has its own culture. When I greet someone from my Ethiopian heritage with three kisses on the cheek to represent warmth and connection, this customary gesture is unique to that culture. Similarly, within any organization, unique methods of connection and communication prevail, reflecting its distinct cultural environment. Leaders aiming to unlock the potential of human brilliance should first aim to understand and support the existing group connection.

The approach must capture everyone for it to succeed, so get to know people and really listen. Putting in the work to understand them and meet them at their table helps pave the way for more authentic connections and a stronger foundation for collective brilliance.

3. Build upon strengths

Once at their table, I explore questions like: What is the general language of connection and can everyone easily understand it? How does our communication foster inclusivity? What rituals define and unite us? Just as childhood rituals shape our identities and lay the groundwork for trust and unity within our families, the same happens in a company.

We uncover hidden cultural strengths and insights by thoroughly examining how people learn, engage, and show vulnerability. When new leaders enter an organization believing a complete cultural overhaul is needed, when it isn't, they waste time and money. Instead, they should focus on enhancing existing strengths, nurturing and supporting them to unlock significant impact and foster human brilliance.

Working with 12 million people or one, with $1 or $1000 in your bank account — anyone can foster environments that illuminate the brilliance in others. Make mindful decisions to craft spaces for individuals to reach their fullest potential. Progress towards brilliance is a mosaic of smaller yet significant achievements — each one a spark of brilliance deserving of celebration in its contribution to the larger glow of success.

Fasika Melaku

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Senior Vice President of HR & Chief Learning Officer

Fasika Melaku is Senior VP of HR and Chief Learning Officer at Denny’s Corporation. Fasika is an accomplished HR Executive with 20 years of key management experience and a track record of providing leadership, direction, organizational support, and mentorship to employees and leaders.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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