“Hey Sal, it’s good to see you, my friend. You finally did it,” I said.
“Yup, you and I talked about this over a year ago and today I decided to just bring him,” he said.
“Well, you’ll see how it goes. Wrestling isn’t a sport for everyone. It can be pretty scary for kids to go in front of a 100 people and fight someone who wants to twist them into a pretzel,” I said.
“He’s doing it,” Sal said firmly, “He needs to toughen up.”
At this, I went into a rather extended philosophical discourse on the nature of parenting and the dynamics of rearing children. I told Sal that I harbored doubts about his approach based on some of my latest thinking. And that thinking has evolved from believing that children are largely clay to be molded into the shape we see fit, to realizing that though they may be clay, that clay has a definite shape to it – they do not constitute greenfield opportunities for us to create a better version of ourselves or, worse, a version we wish we would have been.
If we believe this idea, we take a different and softer approach to parenting. We realize that there is already something there – and, rather than wholesale modeling of the shape we had in mind, we instead are relegated to adding a little good here, and taking a little bad off there. We realize we have to work within the parameters of the possible, and that what’s there is wonderful, though it may not fit our exact definition of the perfect child. In fact, the child is perfect if it fulfills the greatest potential with which it was endowed.
As I continued my dissertation – while emphasizing to Sal I was not telling him how to raise his child – I drew a parallel in my mind between raising children and hiring employees. Just like someone going into a marriage thinking they are going to change their new spouse for the better, employers hiring folks with the idea they can make of them whatever they wish will likely be disappointed. Just like a child, when you hire an employee, there is something already there, and you had better understand and accept their strengths and weaknesses, their areas of interest and their areas of discomfort.
Taking this idea to its logical conclusion means hiring the right employees is one of the most important things you can do to create a successful organization. Yet, I believe sometimes executives think of hiring (at least the initial process) as HR’s responsibility. But have we not all experienced the frustration of receiving a batch of resumes that don’t fit what we requested? I can recall getting a sub-par batch because the HR manager refused to post the job on the site I recommended, as she deemed it too expensive. How, I wondered, was I supposed to find a shiny diamond when there simply wasn’t one in the bag?
Of course, training is critical to employee success, but it is only effective to the extent you’ve selected people who are open to it, and are suited to the type of work they’ll be doing. I’ve always been suspect of the “let’s push Sally out of her comfort zone” approach to management, especially if Sally’s not on board with the journey.
Training is like parenting – it’s an opportunity to nurture and develop the person you’ve been given. In work, that person has come to you through the hiring process and you have a large degree of control over who you get; with children, you get what you get and (as they tell the kids in school) you don’t get upset.
I think taking this approach to parenting will make for happier, more fulfilled children and, thus, happier parents. I also think taking this approach at work will yield a more engaged and dynamic workforce.
As for Sal, I hope he didn’t mind my unsolicited seminar, but I firmly believe wresting is one of the sports a child should not be forced to do. For the kids who are suited for it, it’s a wonderful experience, but for those who aren’t, it’s just as likely to tear down as toughen up.