Develop Them, And They Will Stay (Or Go)

Develop your talent, and there is every reason to believe they will stay with you forever . . . or they may go.

Considered by some a major crossroad we face as leaders, deciding whether to risk losing valuable talent through personal growth and development really isn’t a crossroads at all.

It’s simply what we do.

What is the alternative? Don’t develop your talent, and they will most definitely go . . . or worse, stay.

A person’s ultimate decision to stay with an organization or leave for new experiences may lie beyond our scope of influence. But you can most definitely control your approach.

A Series of Uncomfortable Chats

The Coast Guard Academy, like so many organizations, recognizes the value of securing and developing talent very early in their professional careers.

Building relationships and enhancing deep-rooted connections throughout a person’s formative years strengthens bonds, increasing the likelihood of extended engagement and a long, productive career.  

Crossing the dais during commencement ceremonies in late-May, I was fully aware of both (a) what had been invested in my development, and (b) my destiny to serve as a Coast Guard Officer . . . at least for the next five years. That was the commitment each of us made in exchange for the experience of a lifetime.

Although I fully embraced that commitment and performed at a very high level, there was an inner voice luring me into the private sector to pursue my ultimate dreams and ambitions.

Nearing my five-year mark, I was comfortable with the decision to resign my commission.

Communicating that to the senior officers at the Fifth District Headquarters (where I was stationed) was another story.

The first to call me into his office was the Chief of Search and Rescue, a salty veteran of 36 years whom I respected immensely . . . although he greeted me every morning with a standard “Mr. Shamrell, you look like sh*t!”

“A pleasure to see you this morning, as well, Captain,” was my daily reply.

That conversation was followed by chats with the Chief of Operations, Chief of Staff, and finally the Fifth District Commander, a two-star Admiral.

They all had the same question: Why?

As senior leaders with close to 150 years of collective service, they could only see what was on the surface and how it translated as immense potential. They no doubt recognized traces of themselves in my performance and early accomplishments, willingly offering their services as mentors and advisors.

It just wasn’t a path I wanted to follow.

Expressing my gratitude for the experience and sharing a desire to pursue other interests wasn’t any easy conversation, but a necessary one as I charted a new course toward enlightenment.

People Are Not Projects

I have been audience to leaders voicing their frustration with a departing mentee more times than I care to count.

My advice follows a cautious route: you will likely go insane before you ever truly understand what makes another person tick.

The one time I drew a line was when a leader vented about a challenging associate whom she had mentored to considerable performance improvement. That associate was leaving to join a competitor.

“I invested so much time and energy into that guy” she stated. “He was a special project to me.”

Before you breathe another breath, realize this one truth . . . people are not projects.

They have no finite destination; no statistically supported, measurable outcomes and projected completion dates that quantify success and failure.

Instead, they are wonderfully curious spirits exploring infinite possibilities, each with a trajectory unique to them, free to change direction on a dime under the influence of free will.

As described in the world of sports, you can’t control people, you can only hope to contain them . . . at least long enough to influence their lives and have them influence yours.

It helps to remember these subtle tips along the way:

Pride

Sharing in someone’s personal or professional growth is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a leader. Almost maternal in nature, the bond that forms can feel like a break if your protégé decides they will take another direction.

Please don’t let emotions such as disappointment or frustration cloud what has otherwise been a very rewarding, and memorable experience.

Celebrate the fact that you have enriched someone’s life through selfless dedication to their pursuit of happiness. Take pride in the reality that you made a positive impact on their confidence to move forward.

You’re a part of that person’s memory, just as they are yours . . . be proud of the time you’ve spent together.

Optimism

The development glass is always half full . . . there’s just too much at stake to see it any other way.

This optimistic perspective drives a proactive approach to talent development, supported by a foundational belief that people respond to and trust positivity.

The alternative is an atmosphere of negativity and self-doubt. The resulting performance will lack confidence, jeopardizing what you’ve worked hard to attain, and placing the future of your team in question.

So, instead of trying to calculate the possibility of a person leaving (half-empty) charge into every development opportunity like each person could be your next CEO (half-full).

Who knows . . . you may be right.

Boomerang

What goes around comes around is an adage that applies beyond karma and weird-shaped toys.

The annals of time are filled with examples of someone growing within an organization, leaving that organization, only to return with a fresh perspective on where they are meant to be.

Without that initial development, the process begins and ends with a person leaving.

Understand and appreciate the importance of curiosity to personal growth and development. There are as many unique paths to happiness and fulfillment as there are people on the planet.

Wish your departing, learning souls a pleasant journey and a speedy return, reminding them that the door’s always open.

A little intention can go a long way.

A Limitless Journey

Every on-boarding, orientation, or development program I have facilitated over the years has featured one common statement regarding what I feel is an ultimate truth:

“I don’t care what you do, how you do it, or who you do it for . . . as long as it helps you pursue your ultimate dreams and ambitions.”

You can sense the angst from hiring managers and department leaders, “Stop! I just hired that person. I’m tired of working double-shifts, six days a week. I need a break!”

Good . . . now you know what’s at stake.

Development isn’t about training someone to do a job. It’s about exploring limitless potential, of discovering new ways to maximize inherent abilities and traits. When approached from an optimistic perspective, it serves as a path to fulfillment . . . to understand what it means to have a dream come true.

To play even a minor role, to somehow contribute to that process of discovery is something to be grateful for, and to cherish within your own personal growth and development.

Even on those mornings when the world welcomes you with, “You look like sh*t!”

This is Tall Tim and I am At Your Service!

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