During graduate school at Colorado State University, I was thrilled that Hewlett Packard, then a medium sized innovator with a big plant outside Fort Collins, offered me an internship. The assignment was to start right after my east coast winter break. On my eager drive back, a truck sideswiped me on a very snowy Interstate-70. My car was totaled and I landed in the hospital in an unknown town. My dad was beside himself, but all I could think about was missing my first day on the new job! I returned to Fort Collins with one of those neck rings, a cast on my arm, no car and feeling mighty disoriented. Though my new manager offered to hold the job open while I healed, good friends and my sisters all advised me to ‘slow down and take care of myself.’ So, with regret, I relinquished the job to a fellow grad student.
If I could have one development do-over, I would have figured out how to get back on my feet and take on that assignment. I by-passed a golden opportunity that offered unchartered waters, innovation and a fantastic set of colleagues. It surely would have set me on an extraordinary development path.
That experience left a deep impression. I have reconciled that loss by doing as much as possible to help other people avoid side stepping terrific development opportunities. Helping them work through all the challenges the new assignment will bring, I encourage them to dive in anyway for the learning and fun.
That is exactly what dozens of exceptional development managers we researched told us they did. They helped employees test their self limiting assumptions, provided them cover while they took on new responsibilities, and built their employee’s confidence to take on the challenges. Sometimes that’s what it takes. Cynthia McCauley of The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has long touted that challenge, in fact, is a key component for great development. It sparks interests and invites the individual to try out new behaviors to achieve success. I can take it even one step further….her CCL colleague Russ Moxley actually emphasizes how hardships, like the one I experienced due to my car wreck, actually provide great developmental lessons if they are worked through ( lessons can include: coping with events beyond one’s control, perseverance, recognition of limits and sensitivity to others).
So, next time you see an employee who feels too overwhelmed to stretch their wings for a potentially great developmental assignment, guide them to make a good choice. Help them avoid a regretful look in the rear view mirror reflecting a lost opportunity.