Several years ago, my daughter and I had to drive about thirty miles on county roads through rural Indiana. Snow was not falling on the day we made this drive. However, there was plenty of snow in the fields on either side of the roads and the wind was blowing. Under these conditions, large sections of these roads are often covered with several inches of snow even though no snow is falling and most of the road surfaces are clear and dry.
As we got our things together and made our way to the car, my daughter asked if she could drive. At the time, she was fifteen and driving with a learners permit. She had very limited experience driving on snow or ice. I thought about the possible conditions we could encounter, the risks we might face, and I said “Sure.”
Did I know that the roads would be clear and dry for our entire drive? No. Was I aware that my daughter might experience some mildly challenging road conditions? Yes. Was I a little nervous? Yes.
If I knew the risk, why did I let her drive? So that she could learn while I was watching and coaching her rather than when she was alone and dealing with the situation on her own.
She did encounter several stretches of road with between 4-6 inches of snow. As she approached the first snow-covered section, I encouraged her to slow down, and I offered coaching on how to minimize sliding and spinning as she hit the snow. She listened to and acted on my coaching, at least partially. As a result, she hit the snow a bit too fast, the front tires got caught in a rut that pulled the car sideways, and the car began to slide. It was rather exciting for a moment, and she got the car back under control pretty quickly.
Her approach to and handling of the snow-covered road sections got progressively better until she managed to navigate them almost perfectly by the time we reached our destination.
The leadership lesson
When you become a leader, you take on the responsibility for the actions and results of others and for helping the people you lead to learn new skills. As a consequence, you will see the people you lead make mistakes.
If you are like most of the leaders that I know, this will frustrate you. I know that it does me. BUT if you want the people on your team to learn, grow, and develop, you have got to let them make some mistakes.
Watching other people make mistakes that you could have avoided is not easy to do. While I was in the car with my daughter, it was definitely not easy to watch (or experience) as a passenger. In this case, the road we took is lightly traveled, and I did not expect to encounter much traffic. In other words, it was a relatively safe environment (not a risk-free one) for her to make mistakes. In the end, she learned a little from my coaching, and she learned more from her mistakes.
If you want to help others learn and grow, get comfortable with allowing them to make mistakes in small, safe ways so that they can learn the lessons they could never learn from your coaching.
Coaching in action
Pick a person on your team who you would like to learn new skills. In the next 24 hours, find a way to delegate a task to him or her that carries some risk of failure because he or she has not done it before. Stand back and let him or her do it. Use any mistakes as opportunities to coach the employee.
For more great leadership advice, check out my Talk Like a Leader Podcast, a weekly podcast that explores the mindset, skillset, and habit set of leadership communication. Using his tips, techniques, and tactics, you’ll be able to Talk Like a Leader to build better relationships and get more done.