We live on a hill, our driveway is about 100 feet long on a 9% grade with a large flat section at the top, also about 100 feet long. Jared learned to ride his bike on the flat section at the top, but always lusting for the thrill of the decent.
After we took off his training wheels I used to hold on to the back of his seat while he pedaled (running beside him). He quickly got comfortable and began to protest “let go, let go! I can do this!!” I of course would insure him that he would be able to do this on his own, soon. Finally, after several rounds of protesting (we would ride back and forth away from the top of the hill and back to the top of the hill), on our trip back away from the top of the hill I said “OK buddy, I’m gonna let go”. I did, and he pedaled. He did it! …. At least for 30 feet, where he reached the end of the run and careened into the rock wall as he was unable to turn on his own.
Jared learned two lessons that day: How to turn around without falling and I need to listen to my mentor when he says this is a bad idea (well, mostly. We’re still working on that second lesson ;)).
This is directly analogous to developing leaders. Inevitably all leaders get to the place where they want to see that they can do it, they can make that dream come to fruition under their own propulsion. Sometimes their mentor says “yes, you are ready” and has the joy of watching their success. Other times, “That’s a bad idea” and the struggle of watching them fall, endure the pain of failure and hopefully get up to try again.
A couple of things to consider if you develop leaders:
- They are leaders, of course they want to lead
- They are green, of course they over-estimate their ability
- Sometimes we MUST learn from mistakes, not all lessons can be learned from someone else
- We must do everything we can to get them ready to go on their own
- We shouldn’t stop them from making mistakes they can learn from (though NEVER stop warning them that their actions will most likely incur painful consequences that they MUST take responsibility for)
- We MUST stop them from killing themselves. On occasion a young leader will think they can do something that you absolutely know will most likely incur more pain than the lesson warrants. This would be akin to me bringing Jared to the top of the driveway and letting him go on his own down the 100 foot 9% grade – surely incurring damage that he could not recover from.
The line between “OK i will let you go, but you are responsible to clean up the crash if it happens” and “No, that is just a bad idea” is very fine and vague. Very often we just need to go with our gut (as more seasoned leaders) to know which side to encourage and when we are unsure it’s usually better to err on the side of living through the lesson. 😉