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Learning to ride a bicycle

Here is an extract from a recent conversation with one of my mentees, let’s call him Larry.  First off,  a little background:  I have been mentoring him for about 8 months and we work at the same company.  He is a manager of a team individual contributors that consists of engineers and project managers; the team is focused on solving various tactical business issues and therefore they tend to have 2 or 3 projects running in parallel with each project taking up to 90 days in duration.

Larry: “I never seem to have any time and I am working 60 hours weeks.”

Me: “Why, what are you spending your time on?”

Larry:  “I am super-busy ensuring that the projects that I am accountable for are getting done.” ………..he shared a lot of the details that I have removed from this post.

Me: “Humor me please, while he take a little detour into your past.  Can you remember when you learned to rides a bicycle?”

Larry:  “Yep”

Me:  “I assume that you rode a bicycle with training wheels for a while?”

Larry: “Yep and then my dad took them off.  He ran next to me a couple of times and I cannot remember when he let go.  I realized that he had let go when I started to turn around to ride back to the house and saw him standing in the street in front of me.” – he had a big smile on face while he shared this memory from his youth.

Me: “Did you fall?”

Larry: “Ouch, quite a few”

Me: “Was your dad there to pick you up when you fell?”

Larry: “Nope, but my Mom did provide the Band Aids”

Me: “So back to work:  Regarding your team, when are you going to let them go and allow them to ride by themselves?”

Larry, with a very started look on this face”  “But I cannot let them fail!”

Me: “Why not?”

Larry: “They might not recover”

Me: “Really?  Do you doubt their ability to learn from their mistakes?

Larry with a big smile on his face  “No!  But what happens when they fail?”

Me: “You give them a Band Aid and ask them how they are going fix things.  You just need to watch out for the cars to ensure that they do not get killed.”

Larry: “I get it!!  Thanks”

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Management is similar to teaching someone to ride a bicycle.  The trick is not to let go too soon because they will crash.  Too late and their learning will be stalled.  Once we have let go and they are off riding, we need to keep a look out for the cars to ensure that they are not hit by any cars.  In business terms, we need to give our people the room to make their own mistakes, and learn from them.  We must resist the urge to stifle them.  If they have the self awareness to stop and ask for feedback, then we need to be prepared to provide them with feedback on their behaviors to help them learn and grow.

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