Employers often hesitate to hand an employee more responsibility or a more difficult task that the employee can comfortably handle. If a task is too complex, a skill is too untested, the stakes are too high, or the employee doesn’t feel confident and assured of success, the employer will often pull back and hand the task or the difficult decision to someone else.

But there’s a case to make for doing the opposite. If you ignore your instincts and push your employee toward a move that might not end well (in either your estimation or hers), both of you could gain valuable lessons and opportunities. Here’s how.

The stakes aren’t as high as you think.

Unless you work in the emergency room or the ICU, the odds of lives being destroyed by a misstep are not that high. We are all like to believe our jobs and industries are important, but sometimes a little perspective can be healthy. Even the worst-case scenario might not be so bad when weighed against the value of the experience. Weigh the two honestly before you decide to back down.

Real learning comes from real life.

You can lecture an employee again and again, and you can show them textbook diagrams over and over until you turn blue. But the best way to have an important lesson sink in and last—to the benefit of both the company and the employee—is by sending her into a hands-on learning experience that engages all of her skills in real-time. Maybe she’s never made a presentation to the board before, and things could go wrong. But if she crashes and burns, or soars and crushes it, she’ll remember the moment and its takeaways far better than she otherwise would.

Risks are a source of inspiration, win or lose.

If your employee wants to take her offbeat pitch to the client and there’s a chance the account could be lost, let her take the chance. It will motivate and engage her if she knows you have faith in her ideas and skills. If you say no, it’s the same thing as saying “Don’t engage and don’t care too much. It’s not worth it. Any emotional investment you make in this job will not likely pay off.” You’ll sap her energy and enthusiasm faster with this fizzle then with the crash of a lost account. Everyone needs to feel alive and connected to their work, and that feeling requires an element of uncertainty.

For more on how to show your employees that you have faith in them, and then watch them earn your faith, turn to the staffing pros at Extension.


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