Thursday, April 15, 2010

Life's Eternal Questions - When To Step In?

I was half listening to a few of my team at work the other day. They were discussing a problem, or an opportunity as we're supposed to call them. There were three of them, people that is, not opportunities, nor problems.

I sat in my office, from where I could hear every word and see every grimace, each pained expression as they tried to find a solution. I knew that I would have been able to help them and the temptation was to step in, to try and offer them the benefit of my "expertise". I didn't. Between the time of writing and publishing this there's every chance that I may get asked but until then I'll carry on observing.

I'm confident that these are bright and dynamic people who'll solve the issue, they'll be able to give the customer what she wants and will hopefully learn from the experience. Even if there are some negative consequences from my lack of intervention I reckon they won't be extreme. It's all a bit like Jesus and the teaching a fellow fly fishing instead of showing him where the nearest fish and chip shop thing. Jesus had more hair than me though. And his Dad was a bit more powerful than mine.

And, talking of Dads (did you see what I did there?), the whole thing reminded me of an aspect of parenting, one of life in general one that I was talking about with someone the other day. It's about knowing when to step in and when to let your kids, or anyone else for that matter, fly, even if you know they're going to land with a nasty thud.

When I was a young sales manager one of my first (and sexiest) mentors taught me about field accompaniment with Sales people. One of the most valuable lessons was that you should never step in when you see the salesperson about to make a mistake. If you do, the chances are that the salesperson will never admit that they were going to make the mistake or, if they do, they'll never realise that it would have been a mistake, as they hadn't actually got that far.

So you have to sit there, watch the person make a mistake, know that you could have prevented it, but then talk to them afterwards and hopefully explain what went wrong and how to do things better the next time. It's hard but it's rewarding, it's teaching and it's learning.

As a parent I watch my kids making mistakes time and time again. Of course if they're about to step in front of a bus or do something that I consider drastic or dangerous I'll always step in, but that does raise the question of exactly what is drastic. The definition of physical danger is probably quite easy for all of us to agree on, but "drastic" or serious are matters of opinion. Or maybe you have a different opinion on that.

Parenthood, for me at least, is like that. You have to be there to pick up the pieces, or help when it's needed. You advise when it's asked for and then let the little bastards go out into the world and have their triumphs, glories, disasters and losses.

Knowing exactly when to step in and when to let things happen, that's the sign of true wisdom.

PS - In between the fifth and sixth paragraph my people at work solved the problem and moved on. They probably thought I was wholly disinterested!


Serendib_Isle said...

Also you run the risk of being an annoying nosey parker if you intervene too early too often. They'll hate you for that – kids and the grown-ups alike.

Yeah, boils down to perfect timing innit? A man walking in to a burning building to rescue a trapped kid is a hero if he walks out in time. A nano-second too late and he too gets trapped and he is an idiot. A thin line between hero and zero.

Ah, the marvel of life. ;)

PseudoRandom said...

I had an appraisal on my teaching recently, and I was told that I need to give my students more space to figure the answers out for themselves...even if they take an extremely long-winded route. And when they get stuck, I shouldn't give them the answer; I should just nudge them in the right direction. It's not as easy as it sounds!

I think timing an 'intervention' as it were is an issue for anyone who is partly responsible for the development of someone else's skills. You don't want them to suffer unnecessarily, but at the same time you want them to learn how to deal with things themselves!