Merge's Blog

Employee growth comes from allowing your people to struggle

For the past several months, I’ve been offering up specific ideas for employee growth, things that you, as a leader, can do to help your people develop and grow into leaders themselves.  So today I have strategy #17 in this series.  Today’s tip is to allow your people to struggle.  This may sound counter-intuitive, so let me explain.

Allow your people to struggle

Consider the process of how a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis.  You may not realize it, but this is a complex, highly-sequential, and intricately choreographed process.  First, the insect’s abdominal muscles contract to increase blood pressure in the head and thoracic area causing the pupal coat to split along a line of weakness.  Next, the flexible and still-folded adult butterfly crawls out.  The blood pressure then relocates to the wings, legs and other soft parts to expand the body into the final, familiar butterfly form.  For the next few hours, the adult butterfly remains at increased blood pressure levels until its coat gradually hardens into the new shape.

What may surprise you is that any attempt to “help” the butterfly leave its cocoon is doomed to certain failure.  If you were to try to help the butterfly in leaving the chrysalis, the localized shifting of blood pressure would be disrupted, and a poorly-formed insect would result, unlikely to survive.  An additional loss of lubricating fluids would occur as well, further preventing proper expansion of the adult butterfly.  Bottom line: in order to survive, the butterfly needs to do the work itself!

From the struggle comes employee growth

Which is exactly what leaders need to keep in mind.  With the best of intentions, you may want to “help” your staff, but when it comes to supporting employee growth, the greatest help you can actually offer is to let this person struggle through the process alone.  Just like the butterfly, any attempt to assist will merely weaken the individual, and in many cases result in eventual failure.  And just like the butterfly, the best you can do is to let the person struggle and work alone to eventually build their own strength.

Well, what do you think? Is this tough love, or just too tough?  You know my opinion, but I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below.

I’ve been producing this video series on ideas for employee growth since January, each time one specific, actionable strategy you can put into action right away.  Here are links to some past ones:

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