…Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
For this quote we can thank a man famous for (among other things) being the 38th Governor of California, a 7-time Mr. Olympia, and the Terminator. I am course referring to the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Reading this quote today, I was reminded of an experience I had at the beginning of my career in HR. Fresh out of school, I joined my company’s labor relations group. Within my first month in the department, I quickly decided that I wanted to serve as the chief spokesman for one of our upcoming labor contract negotiations.
When I asked for the opportunity, however, the feedback I got was that I wasn’t ready. A poorly negotiated labor agreement can carry with it years of burdensome governance language that inhibits management’s ability to effectively run the business, not to mention wage/benefits obligations that can adversely impact the bottom line into perpetuity. Given these realities, my unproven track record as a negotiator and lack of experience in the space made placing me in a chief negotiator role an extremely risky proposition.
I was disappointed when I got this message – I felt that the best way to develop was by stretching myself, and not being given the opportunity to do so was frustrating. But having worked closely with many a savvy union representative in the years that followed, I can see in hindsight that leadership was right to not give me that responsibility at that time. Over and beyond developing its people, a business first and foremost has a fiduciary responsibility to protect itself from risks that might damage its strategic and/or financial position: With this in mind, putting me in that role with so little experience would have been an unacceptable business risk.
…With that said, I recount that story to say that there is a balance to be struck between acceptable risks to take when developing talent and protecting shareholder interests. And this balance needs to be considered on both the employee and employer sides:
To this point, in order to develop a strong talent pipeline an employer should always be looking to give its people tasks that they’re not quite ready to do. When given responsibilities they aren’t quite ready for an employee will sometimes fail. But – as Arnold says in our quote today – if they’re made of the right stuff then they’ll struggle through it and learn from their mistakes. Trying, sometimes failing, and always persevering is how people develop into skilled professionals. So if a business wants to have world class talent, it has to effectively balance the risks of putting unseasoned but high potential employees into roles where they might fail against the need to stretch its people in order to facilitate learning and development.
…Conversely, employees have to understand their limits and know when to ask for help. The most rewarding professional assignments of my career have been those where I didn’t quite know what success looked like. In those cases, the journey of finding success gave way to enormous professional (and personal) growth; but something that greatly added to those development opportunities was knowing a raft was there…and having the self-awareness to grab onto it in cases where I felt like I was going to drown.
So as we get started this week, I would encourage you to do things you’re not quite ready to do. Don’t wait until you have archetypal experience to seize challenging opportunities (and don’t stay with an employer who won’t stretch you either). At the same time, however, be humble enough to recognize your own capabilities. Take on roles where you can flex new muscles… but don’t hurt yourself either.
…To do the above is to strike a delicate balance. If you succeed in doing so, tell me how in the comments section below.