Ever Feel Like You’re Not Reaching Your Potential? Here’s How to Tell.

What is your true potential? Have you ever sat down to think it through properly? Take it from us – it’s the first step to your future success.


As busy and ambitious procurement professionals, we all spend a substantial amount of time trying to be successful. Perhaps we’re aiming for the next big promotion, a higher salary, executive-level responsibility, or even simply more recognition. Perhaps we’re trying to be leaders in our category, grow our influence, or even become a CPO. Whatever it is, we aim high, knowing that when we reach our goals, we’ll feel a deep sense of personal satisfaction, accomplishment, and fulfilment. 

But what if we … don’t?!? 

If you’re having a bad day at work (or week, month or year), it’s easy to fall into a rut of feeling like you’re not reaching your potential. But here’s the thing: what is your potential, really, and how do you know if you’re maximising it? Here’s how to decipher what your potential really is, and what you can do to truly work towards it:  

1. Interrogate your definition of success 

With illustrious roles like CPO dangled in front of us, it can be easy to think that when we’re promoted to the top job in an organisation, we’ve ‘reached our potential.’ But reaching your potential isn’t the same as nabbing the most senior role you can. It’s about succeeding in a way that is meaningful to you. 

In large organisations especially, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking you always need a pay rise or promotion to validate your success. But instead of thinking like this, take a step back, and consider what parts of your work life make you really happy. Is it your pay, or is it the relationships you build? Is it getting a promotion, or becoming an expert in a particular field? Although it may sound morbid, when thinking about these questions, it can be sobering to consider the top five regrets of the dying (which include living a life true to yourself, and not working so much!).

Taking a step back every so often and asking yourself these important questions is a critical first step in figuring out if you are reaching your potential, as ‘potential’ is highly individual. 

2. Understand what you’re good at 

Your ‘potential’ can mean many different things, but it’s almost always the sum total of your strengths. For this reason, to reach it you need to understand what you’re good at. And to do so, you need to undertake an assessment of your current skills, performance, weaknesses and strengths. 

You can start this process on your own. Brainstorm what you consider to be your top three strengths, and also list key weaknesses. Remember, organisations (and procurement teams especially!) are collaborative, so you’ll also need to seek feedback from a lot of different people, which can be confronting. 

Really getting to know yourself involves asking for 360 degree feedback, and seeing what stakeholders, suppliers, your direct reports, and even senior people in the organisation think of you. Armed with this information, you should have a more holistic view of what you are truly good at, and whether you’re maximising opportunities to use those skills. 

3. Excel at key tasks 

It may sound simple, but you won’t be able to reach your potential if you’re in a job where your strengths don’t align with what’s required in that particular role. For this reason, once you know your skills and your strengths, you need to compare them to what success looks like in your particular job. 

Say, for example, you’re a category manager. Key skills for that particular role would include working with manufacturers to bring products to life, negotiating commercially attractive supply deals, and determining product pricing. Say, though, that a weakness of yours is negotiating. You don’t enjoy it, and have no interest in learning. 

If you find yourself in a bind like this, you’ll never reach your potential in a given job, as your potential is simply better suited elsewhere. This may be a frustrating realisation, but you’ll never meet any definition of success if the key tasks of your role elude you. 

4. Be a leader 

If you’ve evaluated your definition of success and decided that you are firmly an individual contributor, do you still need to be a leader? The answer is a resounding YES. To reach your potential, you always need to be a leader, and here’s why:

Leadership is about so much more than leading people and organisations. Leading is about putting the interests of the business and your colleagues ahead of your own. Leading is about taking responsibility and accountability. Leading is about speaking up, challenging the status quo, and aiming for continuous improvement. And to do all of these things, you need to be confident to take calculated risks. 

Whatever your ‘potential’ is, it’s unlikely you’ll reach it by playing it safe. For this reason, you need to take risks, make mistakes, learn and grow. Your potential isn’t fixed; it changes over time, and it should. Leading and constantly growing are essential to ensure your career is on a forward trajectory of some description, whatever this may mean to you.