People development: Let them struggle.

The love and respect employees feel for a boss who gets their hands dirty will never go away. It is a direct demonstration of “there is no work too little for me”  and “I am not holier-than-thou” mindset.

However, this concept is often an excuse that hides micro managing habits.

And those same managers all ask me a version of:

–      How do I develop my team so I can do more of […]?

Many of them wish I had a one pager like some sort of troubleshooting guide to development. The human brain is composed of approximately 100 billion neurons, making 100 trillion neural connections, so if anyone tells you they have a one pager that will rewire all that in a week, run to the hills. 

Developing people starts with your ability to sit in discomfort and to let go of things being done right, “eh uhm”… “your way” from time to time. 😉   It also includes your ability to identify all the strengths and weaknesses of an employee, being align with that employee on what those are, and also being clear of what motivates them.

I will often ask managers about what goals their team members have, and many of them will respond with what they THINK they want. Very few have actually sat down and asked this question directly as is, except sometimes with their higher performers.

The thing to remember is that employees will never work for you. They work for them and yes some are in for the paycheck. I can guarantee those are not the majority of your staff, so your role is to serve them anyway so they can fly and you can do more of […].

My most recent ski picture kicks off this article. That very moment at the top of this mountain, was my inspiration for it.

Picture this: 12 years ago I meet a handsome ski bum. I am in my late 20’s and only skied once in my life. That bum glides down the slopes better than he walks. Fast-forward to today with a few ski trips in; I can finally follow him down mostly anything. This past trip was the tipping point. It was my first hike-to terrain to double diamonds run at 12,000 feet elevation. This meant no easy way back. And if you ever been to high elevation areas, you know you get out of breathe after 10 steps you make during the first 2-3 days.

It was day 1, at the top of Juarez Run in Taos New Mexico. I was frozen both literally and figuratively. When I get like this, my legs become like jello, so I told Todd (ski bum) to go first because I wanted to see how he was going to enter that run…

He is now down a couple of meters from me and shouts calmly “come, it is not steeper than what you have skied before!”. At that point he knows I am paralyzed up there and I know he is trying to get me to see beyond that sharp entrance edge.

When I finally make it down and get a few turns in. I stop and look at him almost in tears and say “OMG I made it! Not gracefully, but I did it!”.

After that initial entry and indeed going down something “not much steeper” than what I had done before, I was really proud of myself and thankful for Todd who allowed me to struggle. He knew it was a bit of a stretch, but he also knew my strengths, weaknesses and the goals I had set for myself to become a better skier every year.  He knew that if he could get me to see beyond that edge and go through it… I would be OK.

He could have easily told me to bail down, give up on me, yelled at me, climbed back up or told me to walk back. But he didn’t. He stood there, holding the space for me, knowing I was scared but trusting I could do it. And even if I had bailed down that day, he would still be there the next for a do-over.

His reward in this? He loves to see people grow, and it makes him pretty happy we can go ski out of bounds together without worrying if I can make it or not.

Your employees are the same way.

If you give them the space to struggle and go down paths not so smoothly at first, the rewards will be there.

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