Growing Leaders: Assessment vs. Cultivation

I get most of my leadership lessons from my sons. I am learning along with them. It is nearly summer in Atlanta and my offspring have begun their inaugural season as part of the local swim team. They have been in the water for several years, with a combination of formal lessons and casual free swim, but they are not yet competitive swimmers. In fact, that is a fairly new concept. Winning has not been the point of swimming so far. Swimming has been the point of swimming.Both my sons, like all children, excel at numerous aspects of their lives. They have been deemed “above average” through test scores, medals, contests. They like to be top-tiered, and they reach that level in some of the categories which they pursue, but not all of them, maybe not even most of them.

Their first several encounters with swim team have been frustrating. They have been looking for a declaration that has not yet come. They are waiting to be deemed, “winning swimmers”. They have cried when they have lagged behind the rest of the group during drills, or felt awkward learning foreign movements called “strokes” while others appear to have mastered these in their amniotic fluid. They expect to be assessed, to get a grade. Their coach, however, is focused on cultivation. They have been told they have only one competitor, themselves. They are to become ruthless in pursuit of dominating this competition “meet in” and “meet out”.

I spoke with a manager today about some members of their team who are not contributing well at the moment. These are primarily posture and approach dilemmas rather than technical ones. But the manager is trying to move from merely an assessment-centric model to one of cultivation. You can always trade your current team in for someone else. Someone else will take the job and will bring new strengths and yet-to-be discovered weaknesses to their new employ. But, I can’t help but wonder if there is potential not only for assessment, but for growth, change, and development. Can your team not merely be judged and sentenced, but can instead be rehabilitated? Are they bound for the trade market, or are they part of the farm system? I have no doubt that if my sons wanted to be competitive swimmers, they could do so with practice and persistence. However, our goal for now is simply to be “better swimmers”.

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