Have You Unlocked Your Fullest Potential?

Of the 15 competencies of the emotional intelligence assessment, self-actualization is paramount to unlocking your fullest potential. Many leaders that I coach score medium to low in the category of self-improvement. Below are the most common failings that derail leaders.

  • Resisting new ideas
  • Lacking in interpersonal skills
  • Do not show enthusiasm
  • Either are lacking in a clear vision or fail to communicate the vision
  • Do not see the value in development for their organization
  • Do not collaborate well
  • Have different expectations for themselves than for others
  • Repeat mistakes because they do not learn from their mistakes
  • Are not star performers setting the bar high enough
  • Often have poor judgment

All of these shortcomings can be remedied through self-development. If you identified with one or more of the above, then you have an opportunity to move into your fullest potential by having this self-awareness. Let’s first consider the definition of self-actualization.

The online dictionary defines self-actualization as:

The achievement of one’s full potential through, creativity, independence, spontaneity, having a grasp of the real world and the process of establishing oneself as a whole person, and able to develop one’s abilities and to understand oneself.

In this definition, developing one’s abilities is the core to unlocking one’s fullest potential. Yet, what is the resistance to cultivating a posture of self-actualization? Throughout my career and research, I have found two core reasons. Developing oneself requires mental effort and when we use mental effort it drains one’s energy.

Basically, we are lazy. We don’t like to have to think. We enjoy staying in cognitive ease. Cognitive ease is also known as Fast Thinking, a term coined by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Repetition induces cognitive ease and as a result, a comforting feeling of familiarity. For example, when we learned how to tie our shoes, it required mental effort to remember all the steps and execute them properly. Over time, through repetition, we could tie our shoes without having to think about the procedure. We have become so familiar with this process, we can now hold a conversation or think about our “to do” list and not give any attention to the task at hand.

The downside to cognitive ease or fast thinking is that, as Kahneman points out in his book, we cannot turn fast thinking off. Here’s what happens:

  1. We operate automatically
  2. Errors are often difficult to prevent
  3. Biases cannot always be avoided
  4. There is an excessive confidence in what we believe we know
  5. We are influenced by our biases
  6. There are unconscious processes going on which explain our  judgments
  7. Associative memory is the core of our fast thinking

Overcoming cognitive ease is the challenge. Ask yourself, “What is required to embark upon new challenges and step into developing areas that are not your strengths?” We tend to develop in areas that support our strengths and ignore our limitations. Malcolm Gladwell identified two types of learning in his book, David and Goliath,” that address this issue. There is capitalization learning where we continue to focus on building upon the strengths that come to us naturally and there is compensation learning where we have to focus on and look at what needs development by admitting our limitations.

To shift from developing upon your strengths and turn the dial to compensation learning requires a certain attitude. You need an attitude that you have nothing to lose by embarking upon developing areas that are weak and limit your fullest potential. Adopting the attitude that you have nothing to lose is freeing as you step into a mindset of being open to learn new skills and/or a willingness to try new endeavors. In this freedom, you have moved out of your comfort zone. In this new realm, you need to nurture certain characteristics. These are:

  • Having patience with yourself
  • Determination
  • Commitment
  • Developing organizational skills
  • Being open to learning from your mistakes
  • Having confidence in yourself
  • Being realistic in the goals you set
  • Working hard to attain measurable achievements
  • Staying inspired even during setbacks

Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses is the first step. The next step it to focus on what you can improve and spend time daily on working toward your goal. Overcoming barriers to learning is a new skill in itself, and a challenge for some. Learning new skills can broaden your opportunities and empower you and move you further along in your career. Once you have grown in a new area, your self-esteem will increase. It is up to you to take the leap into unlocking your fullest potential. Having an executive coach can propel your momentum through their insights of your limitations and patterns of behavior that stump your progress. Most important to remember, only you can stall your career by playing it safe. And remember, Success Starts With You.

Send me an email to take the EQi – 2.0 assessment to learn what areas you can develop. If you found value in this article, please share your comments and insights.


Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph. D., International Executive Coach, Psychotherapist is a select Columnist & Featured Contributor for BIZCATALYST 360° and a Member of the Forbes Coaches Council (comprised of Top coaches offering insights on leadership development & careers), and founder of Success Starts with You. She was recently chosen to receive the Empowered Woman of the Year Award for 2021 given by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). She also received the honor as the top international coach of the year in 2020 by the IAOTP. She provides visionary leadership in her field and her many credentials prove she has the ability to empower women worldwide. Her exemplary role as a female professional in a male-dominated industry displays her influence, capability, and proficiency. Inclusion with the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP) is an honor in itself, only a few women are chosen for this distinction based on their years of experience, professional accomplishments, academic achievements, leadership abilities, and contributions to their communities. With innovation and compassion, these women empower others to reach their goals, while creating change for future generations. With over 2 decades of professional experience as a business coach and psychotherapist, Dr. Fouts has proven herself as an accomplished professional and expert in the field. As a dynamic, results-driven leader, Dr. Fouts has demonstrated success not only as an Executive Business Coach, but in every role she has held. Prior to executive coaching and leadership development, Melinda has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for over 20 years. She leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness. Owner and founder of Success Starts with You, is based upon the premise that you are already successful. Increasing self-awareness to increase emotional intelligence and unlocking blind spots are paramount to continued success. Dr. Fouts leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness and discovering their blind spots. It can be lonely at the top and as a thought partner, she makes sure you are not alone. Dr. Fouts’ unique approach from other business coaches is that she helps get rid of thinking and behavioral patterns that tend to keep executives stuck. Her key areas of expertise include but are not limited to: small business consulting, enhancing emotional intelligence, self-awareness, unlocking fullest potential, brainstorming, identifying limitations, challenges, obstacles and optimizing performance. In addition, her successful career as a Psychotherapist and International Executive Business Coach, Dr. Fouts is a sought-after speaker whose key-note address to Women’s Leadership Conferences is Channeling Feminine Power in the Face of Adversity. Her newly released book, Cognitive Enlightenment, was to be presented at the London Book Fair, March 2020, the NY Book Fair, May 2020, and the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2020 until COVID hit. Melinda received her Ph.D. in Jungian Psychology from Saybrook University and her Masters in Psychology from Pacifica University. Melinda has worked as a consultant with executives and businesses for over 20 years. As a result of her experience and studies, she has developed a unique craft to fine-tune leadership development for peak performance. She lives in Colorado with her big, beautiful dog, Stryder. For more information on Dr. Fouts please visit:

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  1. I fully agree with you, Dr. Melinda, in so far as the negatives of cognitive thinking are concerned. The hind sight created by the pattern of our repeat actions resembles the ‘auto-correct’ function in MS Word that sometimes leads you to frustration because it won’t let you use a word it is not familiar with.

    We cannot always expect changes in others until and unless we are open enough to make adjustments in our own approach. I agree with Chris Pehura so far as his HARD philosophy is concerned. As we move on, various experts have given their individual steps in easily collectable fashions. In simple terms, Charity Begins at Home. If we start to see the world in the light of cooperation and adjustments, we can make it better and our lives more enjoyable no matter whether in the ‘C’ Suite or at home, in the company of those that love us the most.

    this is where and how self-realization comes into play and helps us maintain the two in an obliging fashion.

    Thank You!

  2. To reforge behaviors I focus on HARD behaviors. Behaviors driven by…
    H – hammers and tools
    A – auto-pilot
    R – reinforcements
    D – deep specialization

    These aspects are found in a multitude of approaches used in management consulting.

    • Thank you, Chris. The HARD behaviors sum up my article well. Your contribution is greatly appreciated.

      Be great,