Diving into the Pool with Your Pajamas On!

When someone you love is injured or threatened, you do whatever it takes to ensure their safety or help them out … right?! My husband recently illustrated this concept when one of our dogs (a German Shepherd no less, not a small dog!) was accidentally knocked into our backyard swimming pool. She could swim, but couldn’t successfully get up onto the ledge to then climb out.

He was standing at the back door at 5:30 a.m., and saw our male dog accidentally knock her into the pool during a barking frenzy. When he witnessed her inability to climb out, he felt like he had no choice but to jump in and help her navigate the steps to reach safety.

In the workplace our need to rescue someone or something (like a project) may not be as dramatic as diving into a swimming pool fully clothed. However, when you feel responsible for someone else’s work, or for delivering to a certain deadline, many people will do (almost) whatever it takes to ensure success.

The flipside to the “success at all costs” approach, however, is very real. Consider these benefits of not succeeding 100% of the time:

  • Some of the most powerful learnings come from failure. The most successful leaders can tell you of the time(s) they failed on the job, what they learned from the experience, and how they applied those learnings to ultimately improve their performance.
  • A “bad boss” can teach you the most. When you can look at the situation rationally, you will find some of your favorite management practices evolve from working under bosses you decide you do NOT want to emulate. These lessons stick with you for life.
  • We all need the coping skills that come from a lack of success. Not every performance review will contain stellar ratings. Not every project will “hit a home run”. Each person, over time, has to develop ways to accept constructive criticism.

So to be clear, I’m not suggesting you consistently let your projects fail, or that you repeatedly miss deadlines. But I do recommend taking a conscientious approach to developing your people so they can learn the most from their experiences.

  • Don’t solve every problem for them. Which situations are low risk enough that they can have a developmental experience without negatively impacting their career and/or your business results too much?
  • Don’t shelter them from every tough conversation. Often good managers buffer their people from conflict, but other times your team members need to hear the tough stuff firsthand.
  • Do give them the chance to learn on the job, and apply their skills. Sometimes they will get it right the first time, and sometimes they won’t. That’s ok, and that’s how they learn.
  • Do give them candid, frequent feedback so they can apply it in a timely manner. If you wait until the next performance review cycle, it’s too late to have the intended positive impact.

If a person on your team, or your project is truly drowning (like my dog stuck in the swimming pool!), you may need to dive in and actually save them. Only you can accurately assess the difference. What great example of a rescue, or a growth experience, will you share in the comments below?