We’re never perfectly ready for assignments and roles that are beyond our current experience. Ones that depend on skills we have yet to fully master.
But it is exactly those stretch assignments that prove our potential and accelerate our learning. Unless they are truly not ready, leaders who give team members the opportunity to stretch do them a huge developmental favor.
But how does a leader know?
Few people are fully ready to learn how to ride a bike or to swim, so they need the confidence of someone more experienced to push them and guide them toward success. The same is true in the workplace.
Occasionally, stretch assignments are devoured by an ambitious team member. But for the most part, new and big challenges are met with trepidation. Good leaders expect that and offer the reasons they believe the team member is prepared for just such an assignment. They project a steady confidence in the skills of the team member and predict a resounding success.
Just throwing people into the pool or on top of the metaphorical bike sounds like a good idea, but it can actually derail success. Before stretching others with a challenging assignment or problem, it is important to explore the idea with the team member. “I think you’re ready for this. What do you think?”
By exploring what the team member believes about their skills and talents relative to the assignment, leaders can appreciate whatever real reservations are in play. They can then articulate precisely why they have confidence in the team member to succeed.
Months or years later, it is this conversation that remains the most powerful inspiration. Hearing why a leader has so much confidence in a team member to suggest a stretch assignment is often a game changer. Sometimes, this conversation does more to galvanize the belief team members have in themselves than does the actual assignment itself.
It is common for leaders not to express their true judgments about the talents and skills of those they lead. They don’t hold back as much as they lack the ideal forum through which to express the confidence and trust they have in others. Stretch assignments and the conversations to explore them offer the perfect stage for leaders to disclose exactly how they see the potential of their team members.
This is one of the most important conversations between a leader and a valued colleague. It is essential not to miss it.
The times I've had these kinds of conversations with my kids are the times that they have completely outperformed expectations. Including the first time teaching to ride a bike. I wanted to prep him so he wouldn't quit after the 20th fall... never fell once.