The Vicious Cycle of Enabling Fear
There comes a point in a lot of parents’ lives where all reasoning goes out the door when dealing with your children. It’s called “swim lessons.”
My 5 year-old daughter has been in swim lessons since the spring (now on her 4th round of classes). While she is learning basic techniques, she still hasn’t figured out how to actually swim. She enjoys the water, but it has to be controlled. In other words, she uses her swim coach as a crutch. While there’s nothing wrong doing that initially, she has become so attached to the coach that she’s not willing to take any risks.
The biggest barrier that has been in her way has been her own fear. She has told us that she thinks the coach will not catch her if she jumps in the water. She will literally scream if the coach lets go of her while assisting her in the water.
The most pronounced example of this is the water slide. It’s a slide approximately 7 feet tall, and empties into the deep end of the pool. All of the other children in her group can go down the slide on their own, including other children that can’t fully swim. They all know the coach will catch them once they land in the water, but my daughter is so fearful that the only way she’ll go down the slide is if the coach will slide down with her. When that happens, she loves going down the slide. This has been an ongoing issue since her 3rd round of swim lessons.
We’ve tried to tell her that she has nothing to worry about. The coach will not leave her by herself in the water and she’ll have fun if she takes chances. She doesn’t believe us no matter how we explain it because she has not had a situation where she was forced to take a chance.
The main issue is that her various swim coaches have enabled her to continue down this path. Each and every time they go down the slide with her, or when they won’t let go of her while she’s gliding through the water, they’ve kept her leaning on that same crutch. Instead of telling her that they can’t go with her down the slide and that she can either go by herself or not go at all, she can continue to avoid the risk and inevitably, the fun.
It’s like having a broken leg. How are you going to know if your leg is healed if you never put pressure on it? You’ll be walking with a crutch for the rest of your life, even though you may not need it. Doctors tell plenty of individuals all the time that they may never fully recover from severe injuries, only to find their patients proving them wrong six months later.
For leaders, how often do we over-tighten our control by not letting our people face fears and risks on their own? I’ve seen plenty of situations where a leader took a project or task for themselves because they thought an individual didn’t have the skills. The only way that person will learn the skills is if they face the risks. Alternatively, I’ve seen leaders give so much direction, that their people did not learn their own ways of doing things.
Facing the possibility of failure is the only way to grow. I’m not saying that we should blatantly let our people fail. However, we need to let them face risks and help them control the failure as much as possible, but only from the sidelines.