The Power of Apprenticeship

When should the training wheels come off?

My son is five years old and has recently learned to ride a bike. He has been so excited about this that we spend much of our weekends biking around the neighborhood. Over the fourth of July weekend, my four year old daughter, who rarely rides her bike, decided she wanted to take off her training wheels too. We tried to encourage her to keep them on and practice some more before trying to advance her skills. She refused. I must tell you, this little girl is not easily deterred once she makes up her mind. So, dutifully, we took them off.

She was clumsy of course and had several falls right away. At one point, she got extremely frustrated and said, “Why can’t I just ride my bike like my brother?” My husband looked at me and smiled, so I looked at her and explained that her best bet was to go back to her training wheels for a little while longer. Reluctantly, she agreed.

My daughter’s request is not an unusual request, even in the workplace. Many ambitious leaders want to go further and advance more quickly in their careers than their skill level or their organization is willing to support.  Just prior to the holiday weekend, I was talking with a leader about one of his team members. We’ll call him Mark. He has been anxious to grow and learn and has been looking for additional ways to expand his development. Mark had been identified by the organization as someone with high performance and moderate potential-with many signature accomplishments very early in his career. Mark had also been identified as career ambitious and competitive, which are qualities that are appreciated and fostered in his organization. So, it is no surprise he is motivated to grow even if he had not yet mastered riding with training wheels.

 

Mark’s leader responded to my inquiry with the following perspective, “There is something to be said about being in an apprenticeship. He needs to stay and grow, not move up and grow.”

 Apprenticeship is defined as a person who learns a job or skill by working for a fixed period of time for someone who is very good at that job or skill.

 

Apprenticeship is an important part of the developmental process for leaders. Skipping a step or moving through a phase too quickly can lead to unnecessary falls, scrapes and bruises. Often, leaders crave moving forward because they are eager to advance their careers when they have not truly considered if it is in their best interest or the organization’s. Their extreme confidence should be applauded but any arrogance curbed.

 

I define confidence as the appreciation for one’s own strengths and contributions, and you can never have too much! But arrogance, on the other hand, I define as the lack of appreciation of the strengths and contributions of others and the lack of willingness to observe and respect your own limitations. Mark, and my daughter, lack this willingness.

 

There is nothing wrong with having aspirations and determination, but it’s important to honor the developmental process, even if it feels slow. The obvious question here is “How do you know if you are feeling a lack of motivation because you are ready to advance to the next phase or because you are not focused and overlooking opportunities to grow in your current role?”

 

Take this quick assessment to learn more:

 

1.  Are you a master of your current skill, role, job, responsibilities?

 Yes         No

 

2.  Have you been able to sufficiently measure or test your mastery so that it is visible to others?

Yes         No

 

3.  Have you received feedback that you are at a mastery level?

Yes        No

 

4.  Do you find that you are comparing yourself to others who have been able to move quickly rather than honestly evaluating your own readiness?

   Yes         No

 

5.  Are you restless in your current position because you want a bigger title and more money?

Yes         No

 

6.  Do you feel pressure to reach a certain level by a certain timeframe in your life?

Yes         No

 

If you’ve answered NO to most of questions 1-3 and Yes to most of question 4-6, then it may be that your best bet is to keep the training wheels on a little while longer and stay and grow.

If the answer is YES to most of questions 1-3 and No to 4-6, then your next step is a conversation with your leader that outlines your development needs, goals and aspirations. Come to this conversation prepared to talk about options you’ve explored and be open to options they see for you as well. Most, if not all, organizations I work with are struggling to find and keep good leaders. So, if you have completed your apprenticeship, and you’re ready, it’s likely your organization will be ready to move you up as well.

 

Keep in mind, training wheels serve a purpose. Don’t skip a step and don’t rush the developmental process. But always, no matter what position you are in, find the opportunity to grow.

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