The year was 1931 - the height of the Depression era in the United States.
In East Texas lived a man named F.K. Lathrop. Like many people at the time, Mr. Lathrop was a common laborer struggling to stretch his meager weekly paycheck to provide for his family's needs.
He worked at the local plow company earning a very small income. The ground underneath his feet was dry and hard - so hard he had trouble even drilling for water. But one ordinary day, an attempt to drill revealed more than just H2O flowing beneath this man's homestead. Rather than just finding water to drink and temporarily satisfy his family's thirst, Mr. Lathrop found a secret that would ensure that his family would be provided for indefinitely. Hidden deep beneath the rocky soil - was crude oil!
Soon, it was cranking out an astonishing 30,000-40,000 barrels each day. Mr. Lathrop promptly sold the well for $3.5 million dollars, marched into his job and quit. No longer did he have to squeak out a living. He was swimming in the oil!
I find this Texas farmer's tale fascinating. For years, he'd lived without knowing the secret his land was hiding - he was the richest poor man in Texas! It wasn't until he drilled down deep that he discovered the liquid gold beneath the earth's crust. Although he lived as a struggling laborer, he was, in fact, a millionaire! However, he was not able to live as a well-to-do mogul until he knew the truth of his situation and tapped into his wealth.
This story makes me ask, what is hiding beneath the surface for us? What value have we not surfaced for ourselves? What talent have we not revealed? What talent is hidden in the people who work in our organization? What has not been recognized or utilized that would not only make our organizations a better place to work, but where we could all benefit? These questions are worth spending some time considering.
At this time of year, most of us start to build development plans for ourselves and our employees. Try adding a few simple questions to reveal what is hidden beneath the surface for ourselves and others we lead.
What are you doing when you completely lose track of time in a good way?
Do you sense there is something more you could do?
Who inspires you?
When do you feel your best inside and outside of work?
If there was one thing that you wish you could bring to your work that you haven’t, what would that be?
What’s the best job you’ve ever had? What made it so rewarding?
What jobs exist in the organization that might be just as rewarding?
Stay curious–don’t take the responses at face value. Keep the dialogue alive.
Ask follow up questions like:
What does that mean?
What would that look like?
What is stopping you (or me)?
What barriers need to be removed?
Sometimes our most talented employees are hidden in plain sight! Sometimes our own talents are hidden in plain sight. We might get lucky and find them, like F. K. Lathrop, but most of the time we could be missing out by simply not asking the right questions!