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Is There a Right Time to Unleash Potential? Oprah Winfrey, Jennie Finch, and Elon Musk Surfaced Theirs as Kids

by Michelle Emanuele

Is There a Right Time to Unleash Potential? Oprah Winfrey, Jennie Finch, and Elon Musk Surfaced Theirs as KidsDoing a quick Google search of the word "potential," 378 million results pop up, with almost as many definitions of what it means to have potential. But what about the when of potential? Is there a right time to surface, activate, and accelerate potential in younger, future leaders?

For this third and final segment of my blog series, I found a connection between three public figures—Oprah Winfrey, Jennie Finch, and Elon Musk—who began unleashing their potential as children. The avenues they took enabled them to find tremendous success in three very different worlds.

Interested in learning about other famous people unleashed their potential? I invite you to visit my first and second blogs in this series and follow #UnleashPotential on Twitter.

Oprah Winfrey

Even as a child Oprah Winfrey belonged in the spotlight. Living on a farm under the care of her grandmother, Winfrey entertained herself by pretending to be an actress. Her audience was made up of chickens and cattle.

From age six to well into her teenage years, Winfrey bounced between places to live from her grandmother's farm, to her mother's home in an area where she didn't feel safe, and finally her father's home where she did. According to this article, Winfrey says that moving in permanently with her father saved her life.

Her father required her to work hard and learn. Every day she was required to learn five new words and add them to her vocabulary. Her father pushed her to be educated, which no doubt help unleash her leadership potential.

Winfrey began competing in—and winning—speaking contests and pageants, and she excelled. Her early education and experiences gave her the composure she needed to feel confident. So much so, that, soon after being crowned Miss Fire Prevention, a Nashville radio station soon hired her to read newscasts. Soon after, Winfrey became Nashville's first African-American female co-anchor for the evening news—at just 19 years of age.

Adjusting to and learning from her father's rules formed a foundation Winfrey continued to build upon, helping her become a young leader then, and, ultimately, the world-famous media mogul and philanthropist she is today.

You can read more Oprah Winfrey's journey here.

Jennie Finch

Competitive personalities have a knack for wanting to be the best—that's what makes them competitive, after all. With a dad as a coach, a mom as a huge Dodgers fan, and two big brothers, Jennie Finch was born to be an athlete.

Just after Finch turned five, her parents signed her up for t-ball. Her love for the game shined, but even more, she embraced the fact that girls were playing ball, too! Finch's natural athletic ability was obvious, and her personal coach (her father) went the extra mile to help her become a young leader in her sport. Her father played catch with her for hours at a time, built batting cages in the yard, and even altered a trampoline to act as a pitch-back so she could practice when he wasn't home.

Because of this support, Finch was able to start playing for all-star travel teams when she was nine, but because she was as good as the older girls, she was able to "play up" on the 10-and-under team. (As a big softball player throughout my life, I can assure you that "playing up" is a huge confidence booster.)

Her biography also says that every summer, Finch and her family could be found traveling across the country so she could play in national tournaments, which resulted in her bringing home two titles: the American Softball Association (ASA) national title when she was 12 and a second ASA national title at age 14.

Because her father did everything he could to help her unleash her potential, Finch became a professional softball player, even participating in the Olympics twice. After returning with gold medal in hand, Finch's name was suddenly everywhere. She was now a famous young leader, and companies like Mizuno partnered with Finch to design and sell softball equipment. You may have seen the pink and black bats, batting gloves, shoes, and softball mitts. With Finch's involvement, "play like a girl" and wearing pink while doing it became a huge marketing success.

Today, Finch continues to be an advocate for young female leaders in the sport of softball. Operating camps across the country as well as her own softball academy in New Jersey, her goal is to continue to give “future generations of young women [opportunities] to learn about the values that are taught on the field of play and reap the rewards she did as an athlete.”

Finch's mission to encourage girls to excel at sports or in whatever realm they choose, aligns with DDI's CEO Tacy Byham's campaign to #LeadLikeAGirl. In fact, Byham will be presenting the #LeadLikeAGirl: Power Moves to Unleash the Potential of Women webinar on International Women's Day (March 8) at 11 a.m. EST. Register here to learn the four "power moves" women and men can use to unleash the potential of women.

You can learn more about Jennie Finch's story here.

Elon Musk

"I usually describe myself as an engineer; that's basically what I've been doing since I was a kid," says Elon Musk.

How Musk labels himself is accurate, but he also is a very successful young leader and entrepreneur. He co-founded the wildly successful online financial services and payments company PayPal, and went on to found two globally recognized organizations, Tesla Motors and SpaceX. Given his success, today Musk's name is well-known around the world.

Though he has accumulated a personal net worth in excess of $20 billion, Musk's early years could be described as challenging. Because he was so in tune with his imagination, his parents believed he was deaf, as he wouldn't respond when they spoke to him. What was he daydreaming about? Fantasies and ideas that would later inspire his success. Throughout his childhood, Musk wasn't considered a "cool kid," and he was frequently bullied.

When he was 10, Musk's parents divorced, and soon after, he found his passion: software engineering. He began bringing home books and materials to teach himself computer coding. Two years later, Musk acquired his first computer system and was already so well-versed in code that he developed his first video game called Blaster.

From then on, Musk never looked back. He continued to unleash his potential not only as a software engineer but also as entrepreneur. He started his first company, Zip2, at 24, and eventually sold the company for $300 million. The rest is history.

For more information on Elon Musk, check out this Goalcast article.

There's No Right—Or Wrong—Time to Unleash Your Potential

A philanthropist, a softball player, and an entrepreneur engineer found their passions early in their lives. Through perseverance, competition, and practice, they were all able to unleash their potential as young leaders—and have never stopped.

Across three installments of this blog series, I touched on a variety of industry leaders: from an author, to a fashion designer, to a Millennial singer discovered on YouTube. In looking at all of these individuals' stories, my hope is that you realize that you have potential, too, and it's waiting to be surfaced, activated, and accelerated.

Learn more about unleashing leadership potential.

Wondering if you have the potential to be a leader? DDI's Early Identifier is an online assessment that predicts leadership growth in several areas based on a person's foundational traits, motivations, and initial skills. The results of the assessment can help target development and lay a path to help you and your organization select the best leadership.

Michelle Emanuele manages DDI’s international social presences on the company’s official accounts for LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. She also acts as a resource for employees within the organization to learn about social media and its functions. Outside of her daily digital world, Michelle enjoys shopping for the best deals on clothing and spends time in the kitchen perfecting the Pinterest recipes she pins to her boards.

Posted: 26 Feb, 2018,
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