I was listening to a podcast about children and anxiety. The host (a psychologist) said oftentimes parents tell their kids “Just do your best. If you are struggling with something, we’ll find someone to help you get better.”
She went on to say this is actually conflicting instruction. It tells the kids that sometimes their best won’t measure up and someone needs to swoop in to make sure they do better.
She gave the example of her nephew. He’s in the 4th grade. He was assigned an oral book presentation for class via Zoom.
His mom had two options:
- Option 1: Ask him about the book, set a schedule for first draft, final draft, and practice times in front of mom, make sure he goes to bed on time the night before and eat a good breakfast the day of the presentation. Afterwards, grill him on the details, how he could improve for next time, etc.
- Option 2: Be aware of the assignment. Ask how he’s feeling and if he needs anything. Listen if he wants to share – but don’t interrupt. Then, after the report, ask how it went and how he felt about it. Don’t worry about anything else – he’s only in 4th grade!
Option 1 sets up the child for anxiety and stress. Option 2 gives him a sense of accomplishment and encourages independence.
When Mom takes over in Option 1, it also teaches the child that he’s not good enough and someone else needs to be in charge. This is also known as “learned helplessness.”
My question for you today is this: when it comes to project leadership, what messages are you sending your team?
Are you listening, guiding, and letting your team learn so they’re more independent?
Or are you micro-managing – attending every sub-group meeting and telling them exactly what they should do so they don’t make a mistake?
We want our project to run smoothly and our team to succeed.
But it can be difficult to let go of the need for everything to be perfect. The truth is, our people won’t feel a sense of accomplishment, and they won’t be able to work without your guidance if they never do anything on their own.
How can we learn to let go?
When considering what to let your team work on without you, ask yourself these two fundamental questions:
- Is your team ready for this next level of independence?
- Is the risk low enough that failure won’t tank your project?
If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then let go of the reins.
If you have a good relationship with your team, they’ll ask you when they need help.
Be ready when their output isn’t perfect. Then be ready when the next item they take on is better!
Before you know it, your project team will be independent, strong, and successful.
And you can feel proud to have helped them get there.