Treat your employees like children

Children are not imbeciles. They’re incredibly smart—perhaps moreso than we give them credit for. They have a vast capacity to absorb information, but starting out they lack the knowledge and skills they need to successfully negotiate their way through.

Employees start out like that, too.

As a parent it’s my job to teach my child. To help him build his skill set, nurture his individual talents, and instill confidence in his own abilities.

As he grows it’s my responsibility to resist the urge to be a helicopter parent and let him try things on his own–and fail. Failure is part of learning, and experience is the best teacher. It’s not my job to “fix” his mistakes or assign blame, but to help him identify the missteps and ways to avoid them the next time. And then I need to let him have a “next time.”

As he grows and matures, I’ll give him increasing levels of responsibility and autonomy. If he’s done his job right, he will have earned it; if I’ve done my job right, he’ll have the knowledge he needs to handle it well.

I’ll need to have the intestinal fortitude to let him make hard decisions on his own. Sometimes he’ll make good choices and sometimes he won’t. I’ll bite my tongue and let him take the lead on figuring his way out of the bad ones, but I’ll always be available for advice and a helping hand when needed.

One day (probably sooner than I expect) he’ll be ready. I’ll swallow my fears and misgivings and let him go out into the world to make his own mark. He’s learned his lessons well; he’ll do just fine.

As parents, we know all this. But as employers?

Perhaps we should take more time to nurture the talents of our employees and help them succeed. Perhaps we should give them more opportunities to lead the way, instead of insisting that they follow. They might turn out to be incredibly smart—perhaps moreso than we give them credit for.

Perhaps businesses would do well to take a page out of Parenting 101.


Colleen Clifford

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