Yesterday morning, Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour broadcast an interesting piece on the issue of when is it OK to leave your children alone at home. You can hear it here towards the beginning of the broadcast with Sarah Crown (Mumsnet Editor) & John Cameron (Head of Childline from the NSPCC).
It’s a topic my wife & I are still discussing and trying to find our way through as our children move into their teens. That’s probably as it should be. Interestingly, the law is not and probably would not be of use in helping us make our own judgements about when to leave our children at home alone. Instead, key to sound judgements in this context is what I would call a principles based approach to each individual and each situation. As a parent, I think there’s something reassuring in knowing that.
The Leadership Context
Parking any parent-child analogy, it also strikes me that there are principles here that we can apply in the workplace, especially when we are looking at developing leaders & managers in the organisation. The shared theme I would say is one of nurtured development.
Fundamentally this seems to come down to 12 questions that I think we should consider carefully…
- Are they able to cope with the responsibility and situation?
- Are they happy with the responsibility and situation?
- Are we supporting well their health & development?
- Are we looking out for both their emotional & physical needs?
- Are we clear on their own want or need for independence?
- Are we allowing them to become independent?
- Are we allowing them to experiment?
- Have we provided enough guidance?
- Have we provided the support systems that could be needed?
- Do they know who to go to if they are worried?
- Who else (peers/elders/mentors) can provide physical/emotional support in our absence?
- For ourselves as leaders, have we found the support & advice to prevent poor judgements and also to help us reflect on our actions and thinking should things go wrong?
The overriding principle to such nurtured development being the belief that:
We must expose our people to risk to help their development but it’s our responsibility to ensure they do not cause or come to any harm.
What do you think? Thoughts welcome in the comments section below or on twitter.
David, excellent blog. I also heard the discussion yesterday but was puzzled by the idea that it’s important to develop independence by exposing our children (and in the context of your blog) people but also need to ensure that they don’t come to any harm. Surely there is no risk if we can be absolutely sure that nothing can go wrong?
Thanks Sarah. I think the “risk” in both contexts is possibly best described as stretching our comfort zone. Sometimes it’s our own comfort; sometimes it’s others; sometimes it’s both. When we stretch our comfort zone things may not always go quite to plan but the safety net(s) and ability to adapt in that situation is all part of aiming that no harm is caused.
Harm, for me, in the organisational context is serious damaging consequences. For a leader-manager this could be anything from humiliation to failed relationships to unachievable performance goals to annoyed clients. I think this can only really be caused if we don’t look to those 12 questions & the principle above.
So to answer your question, I think the potential that things might “go wrong” is always a part of risk and stretching people to develop & achieve more. Understanding those potential factors, mitigating them or deciding the chance/risk is too high is how we avoid harm. The space between the two (risk & harm) is judgement.
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OK, that got posted before I’d finished! In the context of leadership, there needs to be some trust throughout the organisation that the higher levels of the hierarchy, or whatever authority oversees this activity, accept that things can go wrong and that, if the questions you have listed have been asked and answered satisfactorily, there won’t be disproportionate sanctions.
Indeed. I suspect fear of sanction is possibly the enemy of stretched development… So there is something about making it safe enough to take risk but also there needs to be a perspective that links to point 12. If you are going to sanction individuals in such circumstances then sanction of the “authority” that created that situation needs to be looked at first. I think others perspectives and input in this is essential to see the situation well (I’m thinking perceptual positions rather than board of inquiry).
Of course all of this cuts across into organisational culture… How does this organisation stretch people to develop and achieve more? What happens when we stretch people and things get broken?
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