How taking risks can unlock potential

4 minute read

By Mark LeBusque. Published at Jun 4, 2021, in Features

If you wait until you’re really sure, you’ll never take off the training wheels – Cynthia Lewis

Think back to a time when you were learning a new skill as a young child.

A common one is the time when your parents removed the training wheels off your very first bike.

You were starting with no experience of the skill, but a willingness to sit with the discomfort and knowledge that in order to reach your potential to master the talent, there would be a few scrapes and bruises along the way. Fall off and get back up...repeat, repeat and repeat.

At first, it was awkward and at times you may have wondered if it was worth the effort to keep going as you lost balance and practising given the way it made you feel.

But you kept going, and over time moved from awkward to achievement and possibly mastery of the particular skill. Practice, practice, practice and more practice were the essential elements to your success. The key was that someone had faith in your ability to step up and created an environment where you could realise your potential.

Now is as good a time for managers to remove the training wheels and allow those in their care to unlock their potential in order to grow both themselves and the success of the business.

I have seen far too many managers run with the excuse of “they’re not ready”, “they don’t have the experience” or even worse “they are really only ever going to be a (fill in the gap).

Here are five tips on how managers can embrace removing the training wheels to develop their people:

  1. Adopt an experimentation mindset – life and work when you strip it back is a series of experiments. We are constantly hypothesising and then testing these hypotheses in order to make progress in our lives and success in business. Managers that are prepared to see those in their care as business scientists will be open to allowing them to undertake safe experiments in order to grow. Curiosity trumps constraint every time. Holding your people back will demotivate them.
  2. Stop pigeonholing your people – we create stories over time about the potential for growth about those who we are fortunate enough to manage that can result in pigeonholing them. “Bill will only ever be a safe pair of hands”, “Cheryl just isn’t strategic enough in her thinking” or “Ben just can’t seem to take the next step”. Before you pull out the pigeonholing 101 career advice booklet, just imagine how you’d feel if the shoe was on the other foot? Pigeonholing is primitive management behaviour that you must stop if you want to unlock potential in others.
  3. Let go – it’s not always about steering the bike – what if you let go of the handlebars for a while and gave others the chance to steer the bike? Sounds terrifying hey? The usual excuse is that they won't do it as well as me, but I wonder if the real hang-up might be what if they do it better? Great managers want those in their care to succeed and step aside to make room for this to happen. They then look on with pride as new skills are mastered and create a development nursery within an organisation. Let go of the handlebars and become a truly developmental manager and watch your people shine.
  4. Give the option to ‘stretch to learn’ into comfortably uncomfortable – great managers realise that rescuing their people who look like they are a bit wobbly at times doesn’t allow for growth so they encourage them to embrace the idea of being ‘comfortably uncomfortable’. They have a unique ability to give confidence to those who are stepping into discomfort by reassuring they are there to act as a soft fall and catch them when they fail. Set the scene that in order to grow we must all play in the ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ zone.
  5. Create moments of exposure to new situations – there are so many day-to-day opportunities to expose your team members to new situations that will challenge them to grow and unlock their potential. Chairing the weekly team meeting, presenting the monthly review to your manager, planning the team offsite or leading a big customer pitch are great ways to take the training wheels off your people and give them a chance to be exposed to a new opportunity to grow. Your role is to make sure that the road they are riding on is as smooth as possible in the first instance.

The pandemic has created many moments where new skills have had to be learned and training wheels have been removed in order for businesses to survive and thrive.

Now is not the time for managers to grab hold of the handlebars again or even worse put the training wheels back on the bike.

The opportunities to let others steer the bike, learn new skills and unlock potential are everywhere to be seen if you just look hard enough.

Step back and see for yourself.


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