I don’t want to help my kids anymore.

I used to but now I’m over it.

A few months ago, I was on a bike ride with my two oldest (eleven and nine) and stopped by the creek to hangout and rest. They were tossing rocks and arguing about something or other. Annoyed at the bickering, I bet them $5 that they couldn’t get across the creek and back without getting their feet wet.

“Deal,” they said.

My son had one idea. My daughter went the other way. He sat and yelled for her to come listen. She went over and tried to move a fallen log that was way too big for her to move. I pretended to be napping.

I listened to lots of complaining and no progress.

 

Then something happened. They learned. On their own, with no encouragement or help, they started to listen to each other.

I kept pretending to nap. I heard splashes as rocks were rolled into the water and logs became bridges. I watched them reach out to steady and balance each other as they worked themselves over the logs. Then all the sudden I heard them call out, “Dad.”

I awoke from my pretend nap and sat up. They were on the other side smiling. Their feet were dry.

****

I saw a video on Ted.com of Angela Lee Duckworth. She is psychologist who did a study and determined that the number one indicator for success is grit. Grit, as she defined it, is perseverance and stick-to-it-ivness. It is the ability to work towards a goal, even when it gets hard. Her research showed that grit was more important than IQ, good looks or social intelligence as a predictor of future success.

My kids, I realized, are not always the grittiest.

They ask for help a lot and being a good dad, I help them. I do it out of love. I want them to succeed and to have faith in my ability to help them.

I realized that sometimes, keeps them from learning some of the most important things in life. My desire for things to be great for them,was robbing them of the opportunity to become great themselves — to get gritty and figure it out.

Jumping in and helping them is really for me. Letting them struggle is for them.

****

And we don’t just do this with our kids. We see our co-workers or employees struggling, and instead of letting them work through it and find a solution themselves, we swoop in and rescue. We are so concerned that they do it quickly or correctly in the short run that we rob them of the opportunity to become much better workers, people, and leaders in the long run.

Obviously, I am not talking about the big stuff. I don’t want my kids getting injured. But, I’m OK if they get hurt or frustrated or even if they fail. I am not talking about letting our people lose a client that will cripple the company.

But sometimes, leaders need to lead sometimes by getting out of the way. That is how people learn. Don’t take that away from them by telling or showing them exactly how you would do it.. Sure, there is a small short term cost to their struggle, there is even greater long-term cost if they don’t gain the wisdom and confidence that come from overcoming challenges.

So the next time you see somebody struggling, at work or at home, don’t jump in right away. Give them a chance to work through it on their own. Remember, by protecting them from failure, you’re also robbing them of their chance at success.

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