Ep47: Sink, or Swim, or Other

32 minutes

Whether it is learning the guitar, jumping in the pool, or doing something brand new in business, feeling foolish is a powerful motivator to keep us from growing.

In those moments, it isn’t always enough to just keep the door open for the person. Sometimes, we need to support them in a more proactive way, and that is exactly what this episode is all about.

Why is that important for business?

When you are trying to lead people, sometimes you think that all you can do is provide them an opportunity to try something new. Often, that just leaves you feeling frustrated when they don’t. Even when there is nothing in the way, new things can still be daunting, and we often need something more to facilitate growth into the stretch. When leading, it is helpful to ask yourself: “Is this an instance where I need to lay out more than just an open door?”

Often leadership looks like a choice between passive allowance, and high pressure “sink or swim” immersion. But we can create a comfortable middle ground without the pressure of self-propelling into the pool or diving in and either sinking or swimming. You don’t have to be the one to dive, but you don’t necessarily want someone to push you into the pool; you might want a situation where if you decide to jump, the right person is in the right place to support you.

This isn’t about enabling people – it is about escorting someone over the first hurdle and then letting them run with it. It can be hard when you are standing on the side of the pool to contemplate jumping in, but if you have the muscle memory of getting your feet wet – of moving forward a little – you can start something. Breaking it down, so it isn’t all of the newnesses at once, can also make the process easier.  

If you want to crack the nut of how to get people who work with you to do bigger and better work, part of that is the humility of untangling what is in their way.

When you are leading, you most likely are hoping to get others to do what you do. In order to do this, you have to be able to reach back to the beginning and have empathy for how it felt when you started. We lose empathy for how things used to feel when we get better at them; you don’t remember when it was difficult. But if you could watch the movie in your head in slow motion and describe even 1 out of every 100 frames for the person trying to learn a new skill, it can help them see what you see. You can either choose to be frustrated by it or acknowledge that if someone doesn’t see things the way you do it is because they need help seeing things the way you do.

It’s also key to remember that there is a disproportionate effect of supportiveness compared to the tiniest bit of eye-rolling or judgment when you are feeling vulnerable. Inside, we are all 6 years old and we don’t want to look like idiots. In moments of growth, you need an overgrown amount of empathy and space and non-judgment.


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