Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How Management is Like Motherhood: Giving Others the Chance to Succeed

Have you ever delegated a certain task or responsibility to someone at work only to quickly decide that they can’t handle it? Perhaps you even have some things on your plate right now that really should be given to someone else, but you’ve been reluctant to hand it off out of fear that it won’t get done the right way.

One of the key signs of a great leader and manager is someone who can see the ability in another person and help pave the path of that person’s success. Whether it’s passing on a presentation that needs to be done or transitioning a program from your plate to theirs, your role as the leader is to check for the signs of readiness and then help set the person up for success. Sometimes that can take longer than we’d like.

I can remember once passing over the torch to one of my staff members to lead some conference prep meetings. However, I didn’t like the way she handled the first one and so I quickly took that as a sign that she wasn’t ready, that I had made a mistake, and that I should take the meetings back. And then it it dawned on me...

This was something new to her. I had been leading the meetings for years (and I am sure my first meeting wasn’t so great). It was insanity for me to assume that she’d know exactly what to do her first time or that she’d do it just like me—she wasn’t me. This was my opportunity to step into my role and support her in succeeding in the job and task I had given her.

Instead of taking the meetings away from her, I met with her to talk about what worked and didn’t work and was able to mentor her and watch her grow and improve each meeting. By the time I left the organization, she was the one mentoring those under her to run the meetings. What a missed opportunity for her and me if I can made a different choice.

Now let’s think about how this relates to our kids.

My 3.5 year old daughter has been potty trained for awhile now. However, until recently she was still wearing pull-ups to bed because she had yet to go through a night with dry pants. My husband and I had been talking to her for awhile about switching to underwear for bed, but she kept saying she would do it when she was four.

However, last month she had a couple of nights where she woke up dry. We took this as an indicator that she may be ready for the transition to underwear and talked to her about it. She was excited this time about the idea and said she was ready.

After four nights in underwear and four nights of being woken up because she had wet the bed, I was ready to throw in the towel. I was exhausted, not feeling well and cranky, and my thinking was, “she’s not ready and it will be easier on me if she’s in pull-ups” (my husband just happened to be out of town on business, so I was dealing with this solo).

However, when I suggested the pull-up option to my daughter the next night, she said, “How about I try underwear one more time?”

I realized in that moment that if I put her back in a pull-up that I’d be telling both her and me that I didn’t think she could do it and that when she was learning something new that I expected her to figure it out quickly, or it wasn’t going to happen.

But guess what DID happen? Yep, you guessed it: she's been dry in underwear ever since! She wakes up excited and proud of herself and that smile on her face is so worth the previous nights of being woken up (and potentially some that may happen in the future).

What a missed opportunity for her and me if I had made a different choice.

Think about this in your own life.
  • Are you taking the cues from your staff and/or your children that they are ready for the next step?
  • Are you providing the information, tools and guidance to help them succeed in that next step?
  • Are you allowing them room and time to practice, learn and grow into the opportunity?
  • If you aren’t, what impact is that having on you and them?


Kathy Taggart said...

Nicola, great post! I am now the leader with my boss on maternity leave and I'm flexing my delegating muscle. It takes work but pays off! And good for L on her triumph over pullups! XOXO

Nicola said...

Thanks, Kathy.

Delegating is definitely a muscle that needs flexing when you are running the show. And just like exercising, I think it becomes easier the more you use the muscle!