This past weekend my 8-year-old daughter Sarah got up from the couch and went into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water.

Sarah did some gymnastic move that landed her on top of the counter where she proceeded to perform a spidermaniac maneuver that entailed leaning back while holding one cabinet door and swinging to get a glass from the cupboard. After she vaulted herself down, Sarah made her way to the fridge where she grabbed the water jug – one hand on the handle and the other hand on the side. Once the glass was full of water, she returned the jug to the fridge and rejoined me on the couch.

No big deal right? Seems pretty normal. And in the actual moment, I did not think anything of what had just occurred because it seemed so natural – my daughter had a need and she knew what to do to resolve it.

It wasn’t until a few hours later at dinnertime when Sarah asked everyone what we wanted to drink with supper. That’s when I was reminded of the fact that it was only two short years ago when my daughter needed someone to pour her drinks for her and now she is doing it all on her own.

Pouring WaterI can distinctly remember teaching my daughter how to pour a cup of milk, water or juice…it was frustratingly fun. It started with me showing her where the glasses were and how to use the stool to get a glass. That was followed by a boring monologue about safety (be careful, don’t fall) and value (don’t break the glass). We then proceeded to the beverage of choice where I explained and showed Sarah how best to hold the container in order to avoid straining herself and optimizing leverage to save her strength. Then came the fun part – laughing as we worked together to clean up the mess from either overflow or misjudgment – that part was inevitable!

Sarah and I worked together for several months – my role, guidance and support – and my daughter’s role, to keep trying, trying and trying. Then one day, bam! It all came together.  She figured it out and I was no longer needed.

Here is what impresses me most of all about Sarah’s glass of water. The end result is the same, she has a glass of water that will quench her thirst however, how she gets that water is completely different from how I taught her. Sarah still honours “don’t get hurt” and “don’t break anything” (so I am happy) and she has figured out a system that works for her and had made it her own.

This simple glass of water got me thinking about my clients who often have struggles with their team’s competence and capabilities. It seems I am hearing more and more regularly “it is just easier if I do it”.

Well how is that helping anyone? As a leader, when you say “it is just easier if I do it” you are, in essence, “pouring the water for your team”. As a leader, one of your roles is to grow and develop talent. That is easier said than done, I get that. However, if you are not committed to your team’s growth you will be setting yourself up personally for under performance, burnout, frustration and anger.

Doesn’t sound like too much fun now does it?

How do you stop pouring the water? Using my daughter as inspiration, here are some simple guidelines to help you build a high performing team.

  1. Be Clear – People need to know where they are going and why. Instill the values that will act as the guiding principles and be very clear on the end goal. Ensure expectations are understood before you move ahead or leave them on their own.
  2. Mentor/manager – If someone does not know how to do something, then you need to show them how. Your role as a mentor and manager is to close the current skill set gap through experiential learning of both theory and practice. People need to be shown how…multiple times.
  3. Patience is Virtue – The learning process can be painful and frustrating in the early stages – very painful and frustrating. Sometimes it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel but trust me, it is there. Be patient because the long-term gain will outweigh your short-term pain.
  4. Support System – It’s only natural that there will be bumps and hang-ups along the way. Nobody is perfect (even you) so accept this fact now. When mistakes happen, stand by your team and help them clean up the mess. Also, help them learn from their mistake so they do not make the same mistake twice.
  5. Trust IT – Trust your people and trust the process. When people know they are trusted they are more confident and more successful.
  6. Have Courage – Let go of your way of thinking and be open to new ideas. As long as everyone is clear about the end goal, have the courage to get out of your team’s way…they will figure out their own way. Remember, you have instilled in them key principles to guide them.
  7. Acknowledge – Take time to acknowledge your team along the way. Continue to encourage because a pat on the back goes a long way in the development of people.

If your team is pouring their own glass of water, CONGRATULATIONS! If they are not…teach them today!

PS: This can be applied for parenting as well.