Standing at the baggage carousel at the airport I started to observe the two children in from of me. They were a boy aged about eight and his sister six. I was impressed with their independence and the manner in which they were discussing which bags belonged to them when bags that looked familiar moved past. They were clearly very independent and in command of their situation and I started to wonder if they were travelling as unaccompanied minors. Working as a team they eventually retrieved their bags and when they had the bags on the trolley two adults, obviously the parents of the children, who were standing behind me went and joined them. The puzzle now made sense. These children were independent and had learned to work so well together because their parents gave them opportunity and space in which to develop these skills. These few minutes of interaction that I witnessed provided for me a model of ideal parental involvement-close enough to guide, support, encourage and rescue if necessary, far away enough for children to find their own strengths, talents abilities and problem solving skills. This is the way that good leaders or mangers behave. The allow the people who report to them to develop through doing the job on their own in their own way with input or guidance given only on a “need to” basis.
Metaphorically speaking cultivating people is like cultivating trees. It is true that with proper watering, fertilisation and pruning the tree will grow optimally. Too much water rots the roots and suffocated the tree, too much fertiliser burns the roots and too much pruning creates as bonsai instead of a big tree. In human terms we could say that too much nurturing can suffocate and weaken the person, depriving them of the space to discover their own power, too much stimulation can deprive them of the opportunity to or reliance on their own ingenuity and too much guidance can inhibit the development or harnessing of the persons innate wisdom and creativity.
The paediatrician and analyst Donald Winnicott spoke about “the good enough mother”. By his definition “good enough” means that the parent, manger or leader knows where and when and by how much to fail people in ways that allow them to discover and practice their own personal power and effectiveness. This requires that the leader holds a fundamental belief in people’s ability to grow, a trust that people, when left to discover how to do things for themselves with gentle guidance and encouragement and not control will come to the solutions that are best for themselves and has the respect to give people the space in which to develop.