“In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”— Maya Angelou

I was once coaching a leader whose team absolutely adored him.

He did a great job leading the team. He worked extra hours to make sure every team member was successful. Whenever a team member seemed to be struggling with a task, the leader just took care of the task himself.

I expect you can see the problem already. Even though the team liked the help their leader gave, he was actually giving the team a very subtle form of anti-help. He was denying the team its opportunities for growth.

The senior executives needed this leader to assume leadership of a number of larger teams and assume broader responsibility. Yet the executives knew that they had a problem. The leader’s current team was a critical part of a high technology project but the leader had not grown the skills of the team. There was no one on the team who could take on the upcoming challenges without his help.

The first step in the transformation of this team leader was difficult. I told him that for his team to grow, he had to allow them the opportunity to fail.

In response, he looked faint. He lowered his head below his knees and took a few minutes of silence. From that position, he said, “How big a failure?”

I told him that the potential failures could start small. After a minute he sat back up. “I can do that.”

He needed some more coaching on how to grow his team’s skills, but the transformation started with his letting go of providing too much help because it had become anti-help to his team’s growth.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett


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