Managing Teams is like raising kids: you have to learn how to let go

I have an 11-month-old son (Bent), that learns how to walk.

When a child learns how to walk, it is one of the first times parents and children learn to let go.

Therefore, Bent has to let (the walls) go, and have trust it will work.

We as parents have to let go, trust him that it will work and be confident so he feels we trust him. (Kids listen a lot more to your body language. They are emotional very intelligent.)

Learning to let go and having trust is one of the hardest thing to do.

A few years ago, I went to an Outward-bound training as part of an “advanced training of leading groups”.

What stuck most with me, was the climbing of a pole (Pamper Pole). I am sure you have seen it on television. Climb the pole/tree and then stand on top of it.

I am afraid of heights, so I changed the challenge. I wanted to go to the top, do not climb on it, just let go and “fly“home. (Members of my team secured me.)

I found out that letting go was impossible for me. I always wanted to actively push myself away or take a step down. I could not just let my hands loose and go with the flow.

It was a very good experience to realize this happened in many things in my life.

Today I think I have less problems letting Joppe or Bent go and let them make their own mistakes. Even if this means they fall down. I know they learn from it.

Of course, the hard part in leading people or raising kids, is to know how much you can let go. People want to feel secure, just as Bent could get very afraid of swimming if I would throw him into the water and try to see if he can swim already.

For this security, kids need boundaries, so do people. The clearer the boundaries, the easier it is for people to experiment within the boundaries and to get confidence. I do not let Bent go to the stairs for learning how to walk. He knows this.

Giving people the support they need, so that they can let go is on the same level. The hard part here is to let them go and not rescue them. I am convinced that helping someone without that person asked for help, is rescuing and in most cases is really hurting the person. At least rescuing is taking away his responsibility and his power. When you do this, you take away a learning experience.

In fact, you are telling the person: “you can’t do this alone. You need me” You get the opposite effect.

When I let go too quickly, Bent falls down, he starts to cry. When I would ignore this and tell him he is a big boy, he will get very afraid. If I would pick him up and tell him I am here, tell him it is ok and that he should stop crying, I actually tell him; his emotions are not important. If the crash he made is not too bad, I tell him he did a good job and almost succeeded. I help him up, and make sure he can stand up now on his own (using a table or my legs) I try to tell him it is ok to cry. I know he did hurt himself. Therefore, it is ok to cry.

I also want to give him the courage to try again. I do not pick him up, just help him up. I only do this when he cries (asks for help). Again I do not want not rescue him, I want to support him. In fact, I get down myself and put myself at his level, so he can get up. I can still hug him.

It is very time consuming, but in the end it is rewarding.

I see many managers giving a task to someone without support, and when the person does not succeed, they try again, one more time and then the managers say/think: I will do it again myself that is a lot quicker then using X. He is not capable of doing it, or it is too time consuming.

I agree. It is time consuming. In my opinion, with the correct support and enough time, they will be able to do it (almost) alone. In the end, the manager wins time.

It is not about getting it done quickly; it is about getting the most done with the resources you have. The team members are part of the team. If you do not use them, you might just as well fire them.

It is like telling to a kid that walks to slow: “You walk to slow; I will walk you for the rest of your life.” Although many people will pick up their kids too long, nobody does this for the rest of their children’s life.

Of course, it all depends on the situation. When I am in a hurry, I will carry my kids as well.

This is what situational leadership is all about.

Last week I had to pick up Joppe from school and due to a miscommunication, I had to do this on foot. I realized it was an opportunity. Therefore, we went home by feet. I did not carry him, because I decided to take the time. It was a long walk for a 3 year old, especially after a long day at school. When we came home, he had more energy then days when I pick him up in my car. We accomplished something together and he felt my pride.

What about making mistakes and letting go too quickly?

I do make that mistake, so Bent falls. I support him and tell him it my fault. He might not understand my words, but he is getting the message. Do I feel guilty about it? No, I find it OK to make mistakes. That is also a message that I want to give my sons.

I might be doing this too quickly; because Joppe falls at places, we do not expect it. Is he a dangerous kid? I do not think so, because the dangerous things he does very carefully. He makes mistakes at easy things, not with dangerous actions. I guess he is too careless.

Even if we did make mistakes, I hope this will give my kids the courage to believe in themselves.

Update: a difference between parents and leaders, is that parents are considered to be with two and leaders do it alone. The leadership game I invented with my father, we lead as a duo. We have now changed the game to make the leaders work as a duo:

Leadership game: a pair coaching experience.

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