One afternoon my son comes running in the house screaming, “Look what I found Dad!”
He’s holding this small lizard looking thing with an orange belly. I’m terrified of reptiles so I’m doing all I can not to freak out. “Can I keep it Dad? Mom said I could keep a snake or lizard if I caught it!” Don’t you love how kids remember everything you tell them?
We reluctantly said yes…we had to keep our word right? While he was basking in his excitement for his new friend, I was making sure it didn’t escape in the house. For the record, I would’ve screamed and ran had he lost his grip on that thing!
(I can't believe I let this thing into the house.)
With some research we discovered his catch was a rough-skinned newt… and it was poisonous. Yikes! We high fived his courage and I had him tell us the story of his amazing find.
The next day he told all his buddies at school he caught a poisonous newt (his status skyrocketed!) His teacher told him he could bring it in for show and tell and brought his excitement through the sky.
The next day we bring in the newt and his brand new aquarium to class. The kids surround him like a rock star and start asking a million questions. “Can I touch it?”, “Does it bite?”, “What does it eat?", "Is it a boy or a girl?”
He was ready for every question and the sparkle in his eyes showed his growing confidence. He gave me a thumbs up as I was leaving and continued to share everything he'd learned about his new buddy “Poison Pumpkin" the newt.
Good leaders don't leave it at "yikes"
Now pause and think for a moment how the story would be different if I'd given my son this feedback:, “Get that nasty thing out of the house!” What if I had told him every reason why he couldn’t keep it? What if we hadn’t high fived his courage and asked him to tell us the story and where he found it?
Sound familiar? That’s how the majority of leaders respond when a curious kid on their team shares an idea or approaches them with a “new find”. Then they wonder why they don’t get more engagement from their teams.
In fact, the best leaders simply do this when faced with a scary new find:
1) Listen despite your fear.
It's easy to dismiss something that makes you fearful or apprehensive. The best leaders get over their fears quickly, and focus on their team member and what they're trying to share instead.
2) Ask questions and high five the courage.
If you think an idea is scary, you bet the kid on your team knows it too. Be a leader that encourages bravery by giving them a high five and asking more about their idea.
3) Encourage the storytelling.
Confidence is contagious. Help your employees share their confidence by encouraging them to tell stories about their find. You'll see the sparkle in their eyes too as they share their stories.
So with all this in mind, how will you respond the next time someone comes running into your kitchen with something scary?
How else can you encourage fearlessness in your company culture?