Five years ago when I was working for a different company, one of our full time staff members, Jill, was a woman in her early 20s and in her first year at the company. Jill didn’t just like our company – she adored it and was overwhelmingly passionate.
Unfortunately, passion is just one part of the equation in a high-performing employee. Jill struggled with the tactical part of her job. She had great social acumen, but simply lacked the skillset to be naturally successful in her role. She was very willing to work hard and was loyal to the procedures of our organization – she just lacked the finesse required to make her a high-performing individual.
The time came when we were hiring new faces and had to let others go. Jill was one of those employees. When my boss, Jonathan, shared his decision with me, I felt obliged to affirm his decision by breaking open my mental bank and pouring out the times that I had witnessed Jill’s poor performance.
What I expected was for Jonathan to nod approvingly and to thank me for being a good, observant boss, but what I got instead was a face of pure disappointment. I had just finished a story of where Jill had blown it, where she had done it the wrong way, when Jonathan interrupted me. “… And did you tell her how to do it the right way?” Well, I hadn’t.
I had spent the last ten minutes describing what a poor employee Jill had been, and it was in that moment that I realized how terrible a boss I had been. I felt so low. I had missed the perfect opportunity to mentor and develop Jill, meaning that her failures were my failures.
I’ve never forgotten that moment. There’s a great saying that "good leaders hold the ladder for others to climb up." Leaders mentor, they coach, they develop others, and their job isn’t just to keep people in line. Their job is to replicate their own giftings, talents, and successes into others.
I’m a firm believer that while a few leaders are born great, the majority are made great. From this, I’ve decided that I don’t want to be on the sidelines keeping my list of right and wrongs. I want to be out in the thick of it, holding the ladder.
John Pepper, retired CEO of Proctor and Gamble, tells of a time where he held the ladder and encouraged a young employee at P&G to succeed. See the download the free video and discussion kit below.