Stubbing Your Toe

How long has it been since you stubbed your toe?

I’m not talking literally, but rather those missteps, those momentarily painful stumbles you encounter when you are venturing down a new path. As a leader, do you think you are past that “stage” in your journey? If so, that is unfortunate, because that means you are no longer stretching and trying new things. As painful as it may be at the time, stubbing your toe is often when you learn lessons that will stay with you long after the momentarily throbbing subsides. There are three things to consider when it comes to stubbing your toe.

The alternative is standing still — which is rarely mentioned as a top leadership trait.

Effective leadership requires constant learning, adapting, and moving your organization forward. It requires exploring areas where you may not have expertise, or have never tried before, but are necessary to maximize the opportunities before you. Leaders sometimes have the mistaken impression that to be seen as successful, you need to not make mistakes. To be successful, you need to help your organization move in the direction of its strategic goals, which is rarely accomplished along a perfect, pain-free, path.

You have to let your people stub their toes, too.

As we look to expand our team’s leadership stills, to decide when someone is “ready” to take on a new challenge, there is a tendency to set the bar at where the leader, or another senior team member, is at the time . . . after years of carrying out a task. If that is your criteria for building your bench strength it will probably be a sparsely populated bench. Think back to when you started a particular task. Chances are you stubbed your toes plenty along the way. You need to give your emerging leaders the opportunity to do the same. Yes, it can be hard, at times even cringeworthy, to see your people stumble in ways that you would not. And yet, that is how they will grow into the leaders you need them to be.

When your team sees you “recalibrating” if things don’t go as planned, you give them permission to do the same.

Giving someone a stretch assignment is going to feel far less intimidating if your people see that you as the leader are willing to try new things, perhaps awkwardly at first, maybe limping through here and there, but always exploring and growing. It sends the message that they, too, will be given the latitude to try new things, learn from the stumbles, and keep going. And you need them to do just that.

The path to success is rarely a straight line. It is lined with twists and turns and plenty of things that can trip you up on the way to your final destination.

Where do you need to stub your toe?

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