I am the proud parent of a two-year old (our first child) and am constantly learning, making mistakes, and growing as a person. The longer I fill my role as “ill-prepared parent” and wait for the magic book to arrive from Amazon, the more I am convinced that my son is actually a business genius – a diaper-clad, mini-guru of sorts. No, he does not quote Drucker or perform random SWOT analyses for his daycare, but he manages to teach me some of the greatest lessons in leadership I have ever learned. In his innocence and exploration he forces me to look at the basics of my own leadership style, and has an uncanny ability of exposing my faults. This is my way of thanking him.
The other day my son fell down; any parent of a toddler will attest that this is not inherently novel as two-year olds are just a bit clumsy. As a parent you are forced in that instant to “grade” the fall and respond proportionately. There are some falls where you simply tell them, “you’re o.k., get back up, it was just a fall”, perhaps you even laugh about it with them. Other times you swoop them up in your arms, dry their tears, and make them not only feel, but know, that they are all right. You address the circumstances of the fall later after they are sure that everything is fine.
When you are a parent you quickly develop that aptitude for proportionate response, but the question here is; do you have this same skill set for the people in your charge? Our employees, our team, look to us as leaders for support when they fail or fall down on the job. Each individual is different and so is each set of circumstances. Just like parenting, there is not a magic book to prepare you for how to deal with each unique occurrence. It is easy to take on a singular stance; the “hard-nosed coach” posture or the “loving nurturer” would be the two extremes. It is not for me to decide what style is best for you and your people, but I will ask you to think through the following short scenarios. Would you tell your child to just get up and they are “fine” when they have had the living daylights scared out of them, their hands and knees have scrapes, and they need to feel safe again? On the other side, how do you think your child will turn out if you constantly swoop them up, coddle them, and they never get to learn from their bumps and bruises?
In today’s turbulent economy, with enormous competitive pressure, it is easy to view every “fall” as a failure. However, true leaders view these falls as teachable moments, opportunities for mentorship, and the steps toward innovation. Most importantly, these are also the critical points where loyalty is solidified. I would never propose that you just idly accept rampant failure, rather, my suggestion would be invest in a higher level of support for those that have great potential. Sometimes your people need to get back up on their own, other times they need a helping hand, a dust off, and the reassurance that everything is all right – knowing how to handle these situations correctly is what separates leaders from managers.