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Managing The Shell: What’s Your Strategy?

Written by Bonnie Van Epps, Director of Talent Development

bonnie van epps

If you know me, you know how much I adore my kids, but being a parent can be really hard sometimes.  Especially when you can see the mistakes kids are about to make. You could stop it.  You could even do it for them the right way.  However, herein lies every parents’ dilemma… 

To do it for them, or let them peck their way out of their own eggshell.

I recently learned that when you raise chickens, under no circumstances should you do anything to help a hatching chick out of its shell.  It may be tempting. You see them peck and peck, minute after minute, and the crack gets only marginally larger after so much effort. Still, you cannot help them. Why?  Because if you do the work for them, they will be too weak to survive life out of the shell.  Literally, the effort that it takes a chick to peck out of its shell is what builds up its strength to survive in the world.

I relate this to my kids making a sandwich… oh it would be so much easier for me to make it for them than to watch the peanut butter be schmeared all over, not only a piece or two of bread, but my countertops, the jar, the entire knife… you get the picture.  I often need to stop myself from speaking and keep my non-verbals in check too.  They need to peck their own way out of their shells and learn how to do it themselves.  Knowing that mom trusts them to figure it out, clean up after themselves, and enjoy the fruits of their own labor will help them survive.

The same is true for helping people develop in their careers.  Leaders and mentors are critical in developing talent within an organization as they can offer sage advice and emulate what to do. The experiences that people have over the course of their career is what hatches real learning.  Leading that cross functional project team, researching a new product line, or stepping into additional responsibilities within a role – that’s where the shell pecking happens!  It’s also where fatigue, mistakes and hopefully a lot of “aha’s” happen too. That’s where a leader or mentor adds value as they guide and coach the employee through the fatigue, the mistakes and the ahas!

What have your shell pecking experiences been? As I reflect on my life and career, the situations where I’ve had to peck my own way out have also served as the greatest learning experiences and I am grateful for every one of them.  They were not easy and I made mistakes along the way, but they did make me stronger.

Now I know having my kids make their own sandwiches will not be what gives them the strength to survive, but it does get them one step (or shall I say peck) closer to independence. One peck closer to life outside the comforting shell that is mom. Because all we want as parents, mentors, and leaders is for our little chicks to come out strong and ready for anything.

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