Michael Oher was born into circumstances that we know exist, but wish didn’t. Michael’s mother was addicted to crack cocaine and his father was murdered when he was young. In Michael’s first 9 years in school he went to 11 different institutions, where he was passed along from grade to grade because it was easier that way, not because he earned the promotion. By the time Michael was 16 he had an IQ of 80, which placed him in the bottom ninth percentile of mankind. Michael wasn’t slipping through the cracks, he was being pushed through them.
The story of Michael is not uncommon. In our lives we meet people, many of which we know need some extra help and guidance, but we convince ourselves that we don’t have the time to do anything about it, it’s not our problem. When we work with children we focus on the ones that we think want our help and ignore those that need our help. Why? Because the ones that need our help usually don’t want it to begin with. In order for us to reach those with needs, we need to seek them out and find ways to keep them in, in essence, we make our jobs harder. Through observation and word of mouth we designate kids “gifted” and give them all the resources they need to refine their gifts and keep them on the right path. We also label kids “troubled” and ignore their needs just long enough so that they can be passed on to the next adult that is forced to meet them.
This practice continues into adult life as well. We look at our employees and label them as having “potential”. Because of this potential we invest our time in them, giving them the tricks of the trade knowing that they ultimately will enhance our bottom line. Those that we do not see potential in are left to figure things out on their own, never really knowing how to excel, because nobody took the time to invest in them personally. These people become expandable for no other reason other than we did not see anything in them that was interesting to us.
By doing this we are missing out on untapped potential. When we as leaders don’t take the time to invest in everyone we miss the hidden talents that are not visible through the naked eye. When we accept external opinions on people we don’t allow ourselves to truly get to know who we are working with or mentoring, therefore missing out on whatever “potential” is hidden. When we pass our problems on to others, we diminish our value as a leader because we show that we are one dimensional in our ability to enhance the lives of others.
Michael Oher is the perfect example of what lies behind perception. This kid that was in and out of foster homes, that was passed from grade to grade so that teachers did not have to deal with him two years in a row, eventually found someone who did not believe what others were saying about him. Michael was given a chance in life because someone actually believed that they could help someone who was labeled “helpless”. Michael was able to raise his IQ by 20 to 30 points, was admitted to Ole Miss, and now is the best offensive lineman in the nation. Next year, after the NFL draft, Michael will be a millionaire, not only because of his hard work and dedication, but because someone decided to do their job, someone decided to invest in someone that nobody else would. Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy decided to extend a hand, not turn a blind eye.