Big Stretches April 1, 2009Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
Tags: Best Of 2009, Leadership, Management Skills, Mentor
Early in my management career, I ran the Unix portion of a large corporate data center. There were close to one hundred people there, managing all the things you need to run a big, multi-vendor environment. It was fun, challenging, and educational, in more ways than I expected.
It came to pass that one of the senior managers had a new opportunity and would be moving on to a different part of the company. As was the tradition, there was a send-off event at work, which was always structured as a roast of the honoree. I had never been to one before, as I was still relatively new to the group.
Imagine my surprise when the Director of Operations pulled me aside and told me that I would be one of the speakers! I was expected to get up and speak for three or four minutes, telling jokes and entertaining the crowd. Refusing was not an option, so I started putting together a routine of sorts.
People who know me know that I can speak to large groups at the drop of a hat. I’ll get up and speak even if you don’t have a hat. For me, “staff meeting” is just corporate-speak for “captive audience.” However, “speaking” and “entertaining” are two very different concepts. I enjoy the former; the latter is in the ear of the listener. Coupled with being the new kid on the block, this seemed to be an overwhelming challenge. In short, I was terrified.
But I did it. I got up, started talking, and they actually laughed! No one was more surprised than I was. And the benefits of the experience extended beyond overcoming extreme stage fright. I became accepted into the group, developed more relationships, and became a more effective employee.
Later, I asked my director why he asked me to speak. After all, he didn’t know me very well, and he was taking a bit of a risk. He told me he thought I could step up to the challenge and that I would do a good job.
For me, it was a big stretch that had a big payoff. Because my boss had faith in me, I showed I could succeed in a difficult assignment. That success translated into other opportunities that helped me and the organization.
When is the last time you gave one of your people such a stretch opportunity? When did you roll the dice and let someone really go beyond their comfort zone? This is incredibly hard to do. A few posts back, I talked about letting people solve their own problems; that is hard enough for some leaders. Now we’re talking about letting people take on big, public challenges with a high-risk/high-reward payoff.
Can you do it? Do you have people ready for that challenge? Are you mature enough as a leader to let them try and support them if they fail? It’s a test of their mettle to see if they can hit that stretch goal; it’s a test of your leadership skills to make it possible.