One of the best compliments I ever received was from a very challenging staff member. At least she was very challenging at first. I’d keep hearing on the grapevine what a bad boss I was and how horrible I was to work with!
I didn’t like it. Then I started to wonder about it. I got curious.
I realised it would happen every time I’d give her a stretch assignment. Aha! She was scared she wouldn’t be able to step up. So she acted out by spreading the bad word.
As her “good” boss I had no choice. I stepped up and had one of those difficult conversations. The kind you need to have if you’re going to help your staff develop.
Lesson 1: Look after your boss. I told her what I knew. She turned beetroot and apologised. She learned that’s not smart to do. Admittedly, she didn’t know how good my network was in that organisation. But you always want your boss on side.
Lesson 2: Develop your self-awareness. I told her it seems to happen every time I give her a stretch assignment and I think she gets scared that she won’t measure up. Once she was aware of what she was doing, she could contain her fear. She could tell herself she feels scared because it’s a stretch assignment. That’s the good kind of scared, the one to lean into.
Lesson 3: Go where the love is. I also told her I only gave her the stretch assignments because I knew she could do it. She beamed. It was true. I could see she had talent. I could also see that it would take time and effort to nurture it in her. The lesson is that if you don’t have someone who sees and helps you nurture your talent, do what you can to find it.
Some years later she told me how grateful she was for the time that we’d worked together.
It did take time and effort to nurture her talent. Lots of it. But I was rewarded.
Over time it meant that I could delegate more and more work to her with confidence. That was great. But what has really stayed with me was her telling me that I’d taught her how to think.
She became a high flyer and I know that I contributed positively to her career.
You know that proverb “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”? Well it applies at work too.
Do what you can to teach your staff to think.