Get by Giving

You get by giving. And yes, I mean charity, but I’m not just talking about charity. I’m talking about opportunity.

You get, you gain, you benefit, by giving your subordinates opportunity.

Again, we’re going back to performance and potential. Someone in your organization is doing the job as well as possible. He or she also has a positive attitude and shows interest in the next opportunity.

The most important thing you can possibly do when you find this person is to give him or her an opportunity to grow and learn something new. Pick something, anything. It might seem small to you, but for a new person, it’s a start, and that’s all we need to get a little momentum. I owe my entire military career to a few people who saw some potential and gave me an opportunity or two.

In my profession, there’s not a lot I can give my people. I can give them time off when the mission allows, awards when they earn them, and honest evaluations. Up until a while ago, those were all I thought I had for rewards, but now I know better.

Giving people opportunity is the single most valuable thing you have to offer. Doing so shows the people you work with that there’s merit to trying to do well, and that professional growth is possible. Not doing so encourages your best performers to leave and tells those left behind that there’s no real gain in going the extra mile. To put it bluntly, not giving away opportunity ends good organizations.

Tell me if this looks familiar:

  1.  Identify someone with the talent and potential to do more.
  2.  Give that person an opportunity.
  3.  Invest time and energy into that person.
  4. Repeat

Some people might think this isn’t as easy as it looks. There are only three arguments:

  1. I have no one with the potential.

– False.

  1. I can’t find an opportunity to give.

– Hard to believe.

  1. I don’t have time or energy to invest in the people with potential.

– I know, it sounds just plain wrong. I’m sorry to say that we’ve probably all heard this one.

Since this post is about giving opportunity, I’ll focus on argument number two. In my day job, it’s almost impossible to conceive of an organization that has no opportunity to offer. The potential my people show is humbling, and the opportunity available is overwhelming. That combination of great people with a chance to do great things is part of why I’m still in uniform and out to sea while writing this.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that you have the right person. You owe it to that person and the organization to find an opportunity. In the odd 0.1% chance that there truly is no opportunity for a person with potential, what do you do? Honestly, it’s so hard to believe that my first response would be to look harder. Still if you’re in that situation, you have two options:

Convince that person to move on to a place where his or her potential will be met, even if it’s not in your organization. I’ve done it before. It’s not as hard as it sounds.

– OR –

Wait for it…

Give up one of yours.

You have a side project that’s probably on cruise control. If you do, can you hand it down? Can you give it to a subordinate to maintain? I bet you can.

And what do you get by giving it up?

Well, you’ve just made more time by handing something off, and you can make sure that project stays on track by investing that newfound time and energy into your subordinate. You know what else you have? A chance to take on something new. When you create opportunity for that person who has potential, you might just make an opportunity for yourself.

Or even better, you’re working on a project that’s not quite ready to hand off yet. You still have some work to do, you still need to do some writing, or maybe you need someone to help out with organization. Involving the right people in that project still in progress can easily make you both successful, and as a byproduct, it puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who will benefit from seeing how you organize, plan, and communicate.

– Who in your organization has proven that he or she is ready?

– What opportunities does the organization have to offer?

– Which one of yours can you hand down?

– What are you working on right now that someone would gain by getting a chance to help?

Oh, and if you’re in an organization that has no opportunity to give its junior personnel, find a new organization for yourself.

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.