What truly loving an animal can teach you about developing your team

What truly loving an animal can teach you about developing your team

Sometimes we need to make decisions that break our hearts.

We found our gentle giant Ollie when a local pet rescue organisation advertised him as a $99 Christmas special.

He captured our hearts from the moment we saw the image of him sitting majestically, paws crossed, replete with reindeer antlers. He was on sale because the moment people saw the size of his paws, they ran the other way.

Yes, he consumed a lot of food and space, but it was the best $99 we ever spent.

The downside of loving a giant dog is their size takes a more rapid toll on their body, no matter how carefully you look after them.

My heart broke when we recently had to make the decision to let our beautiful 72 kilo lapdog Ollie go to his forever sleep.

Letting him go was tough, but I realised letting him linger was more about my needs than his well-being. This made me think about how we often hold on to things and people for selfish reasons, ignoring their needs.

In our work, this can show up in how we manage our teams.

We have all worked with people we know who would benefit from stretching their wings or getting out of their comfort zone. But we love having them on the team. They make a valuable contribution and are a pleasure to be around. We may not discourage them from leaving but are we genuinely invested in their growth – for their sake, rather than ours?

What truly loving an animal can teach you about developing your team

Just as I had to make a hard choice for my dog, we sometimes need to put our wishes aside if we want to support our team members’ growth.

Letting people stay in their comfort zone too long can lead to stagnation and impact their career growth. That’s not great for anyone but it can be particularly bad for the women on your team who aspire to management roles.

According to McKinsey and LeanIn.Org‘s 2024 Women in the Workplace study, the greatest obstacle for women is not the glass ceiling but that first step up to a management role. The study found that for every 100 entry level men promoted to manager, 87 women were promoted. They described this as a broken rung on the ladder, causing women to lag behind, making it harder for their career growth to keep pace with men with comparable skills and abilities.

What truly loving an animal can teach you about developing your team

Their study found women are asking for promotions and are not stepping away from work but they’re falling foul of a ‘performance bias’. A bias focused on women’s past accomplishments, instead of the bias towards future potential that men can benefit from.

Unfortunately, holding on to those team members is like a teacher keeping a student in the same grade because they enjoy teaching them. The student misses out on new challenges and the chance to advance.

If you’re interested in enabling your team members to kick start their careers you should:

  1. Regularly talk with them about their career goals and plant the seeds that encourage them to dream beyond their current safe space.
  2. Co-create development plans and provide opportunities they can use to demonstrate their potential for future management success.
  3. Support them to seek mentors or coaches who can offer fresh perspectives and open new possibilities.
  4. Ensure they feel safe to move to a better opportunity if that is what they want. Avoid making them feel they will be letting you down if they leave. Let them know they are valued but you want what is best for them and if that means they need to leave to grow, then that is okay.

A quote often mistakenly attributed to Winston Churchill sums it up, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”.

Letting go of Ollie reminded me that true care sometimes means making choices that are more about the best outcome for the other person, even if it does break your heart.

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