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The PeopleCap Playbook

Timely insights and actionable people strategies for leaders.

No Short Cuts on a Ladder

Recently I attended my first wedding as a “friend of the Groom’s parents.” I’m happy to report the wedding circuit redux is as much fun as the first time around but with less responsibility. (I didn’t have to wear a bridesmaid’s dress or write a toast!) In between the first dance, the cutting of the cake and the dance floor favorite, “Twist and Shout,” the conversation among the parents of 20-somethings turned to child’s career plans.

One common theme from this group of highly accomplished professional parents was this: Our kids from the on-demand generation may not fully understand that the road to success is long. As the father of the groom, an accomplished cancer surgeon put it, “They are having trouble with getting from A to B.” In fact, they might not realize that getting from A to B requires years of patience, perseverance, stress, focus, learning, and failure too. There’s a ladder from A to B – and it has many rungs on it.

The cancer surgeon recounted the story of a young doctor coming into his office and asking, “How do I get here – where you are – to this big corner office?” The elder accomplished doctor replied, “Well, what have you done today?” He reminded him that success is in the daily grind – honing your skills, knowledge and experience and mastering the tasks in front of you today.

I recently listened to “Dr. Death,” an intense podcast detailing the true-life story of the nefarious neuro-surgeon who killed or maimed 33 people in Texas and who is now serving a life sentence for his crimes. Among the factors that led to this terrible tragedy, one piece of information stood out to me. According to an expert witness interviewed on the pod cast, a neuro surgeon will perform 2500 surgeries in training and under supervision before being allowed to perform those surgeries independently. The criminal neuro surgeon had inexplicably been allowed to perform surgery after completing just 100 surgeries in training! Needless to say, honing neurosurgery knowledge and skills and gaining the experience of dealing with unknowable challenges that arise in the O.R. takes many years. No short cuts.

As employers, mentors, and yes – even parents, here are some tips on how we can help guide this next generation:

Reflect on your own path to developing your expertise. What did it take? Long hours? Discretionary time reading and researching? Critical exposure or calculated risks? What were the critical points where you moved ahead and how did you navigate those? Insights from your own journey will help guide others.

Provide Clarity. All of us – but Millennials especially – want clarity. They want to understand what is expected of them and they want to know what their career path is – exactly how many rungs are on that ladder?

Provide Context. What is obvious to you because of your years of knowledge and experience may not be obvious to those coming up behind you. Dissect your decision making and pay attention to the factors that guide your decisions. Take the time to provide that context to others.

Care. One of our favorite books is Radical Candor by Kim Scott. Kim points out if we truly care for our employees, then we will give them honest feedback to help them grow. Care enough to mentor, guide, and teach. Employees who feel valued and safe will be more engaged and work harder to climb that tall ladder.

None of us got from A to B on our own. If you’ve made it to the top of your ladder, turn around and lend a hand to those coming up behind you.