I have an 18-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum. This morning, he boarded a flight by himself to go visit his grandparents in Florida. My wife and I know that this is an important step for him. It’s a milestone in the transition from being a child to an independent adult, but our heads and hearts are not aligned.
Our brains are saying, “We need to let him take this step. He can do it. We won’t be here forever, and he needs to be independent. It will be fine.” However, our hearts are saying, “He’s not ready. Maybe we should take some vacation and fly with him. What if something goes wrong and he gets diverted to another town? Will he be able to figure it out?”
I often wonder how this conflict between intellect and emotion gets in the way of important business decisions like delegating responsibilities and elevating teammates. Do we subconsciously hold them back—not because of their capabilities—but because of our fear of letting go? Letting go carries risks. There is the risk that the business will struggle and not perform well. There is the risk that the company will look bad because of mistakes workers might make. Perhaps there is the emotional risk that they actually will do just fine and show that they can succeed on their own.
Gino Wickman, the creator of Entrepreneurial Operating System®, tells a funny story about letting go. A man is walking along the edge of a cliff, and the ground gives way. He is falling into the abyss but he’s able to grab a small vine to stop his fall. He looks down and sees that it’s a thousand feet to the bottom, so he looks up to the heavens and he yells, “Is there anybody up there?” A booming voice replies from the sky, “DO YOU BELIEVE?” The man replies that he does and the booming voice replies, “THEN LET GO OF THE VINE.” The man considers this as his hands and arms are straining to hold on and he says, “Is there anybody else up there?”
Letting go is hard. The emotional challenge that accompanies letting our children go, whether that’s taking them to the bus stop to go to grade school, their first day at college, walking them down the aisle at their wedding, or putting them on a plane by themselves—forces parents to take a deep breath and do what we know we must do. But it is gut-wrenching. In the business world, we may not have the same emotional ties, but I believe that many of the same instincts are in play when it comes to making critical business decisions.
I encourage you to look at your team. Who is ready to take the next step? Who is prepared to take some of your responsibilities and duties? And for every time that you say to yourself, “They aren’t ready,” stop and ask yourself whether it’s your team that isn’t ready or it’s you who isn’t. It’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m going to log on to FlightTracker.com now.