Adults Can Hold Their Pencils Any Old Way


I’ve previously mentioned my kindergartener, Zoe. She’s brilliant—and she’s having “trouble” in school. She struggles to sit still in circle time when learning about whatever focus topic they are on (penguins, magnets, apples, etc.). She doesn’t like holding her pencil in a “dynamic tripod grasp.” And she doesn’t like to follow instructions, like her PE teacher’s instructions on proper swimming strokes. All these tasks are really important, and, as parents, we are taking this seriously and working at home and with her teachers to provide Zoe with good, positive reinforcement to help her through the day.

As a parent, I get it. As an adult educator, I have a very different perspective. Yes, Zoe does not sit still in circle time, but she can tell you in detail about all 17 species of penguin and, when I accidentally say “Empire Penguin,” informs me that it is an Emperor Penguin and an Empire apple and then gives me details on both. Yes, she does not always hold her pencil in the tripod grasp, but she writes legibly. Further, she writes poetry, letters to family, thank you notes, valentines, birthday, and other cards—on her own. And yes, she does not like to follow directions, but her “Zoe crawl” propels her from one side of the pool to the other.

I use this example to illustrate a difference between kids and adults that many managers overlook. With kids, important reasons exist for teaching them foundational processes and encouraging them to complete tasks one way (or a few prescribed ways). That “one way” becomes a launch pad for options and new skills and different abilities. This approach focuses on the process rather than the product.

The unfortunate issue is that many managers hold similar beliefs: only one right way exists to perform a task and any other way will fail. But with adults, most of the time, it is more about the product than the process. When you give your team members freedom to find their own ways to get the needed results, you develop empowered and self-sufficient team members. Their way may not be your way, but you know what? Their way might be better! 

Here are some strategies I share with the managers in my Gillespie Nimble cohorts:

  • Detail the end results for your staff.Let them know exactly what they need to accomplish or what the final product needs to look like. And then let them get there on their own.
  • Present all possible tools. If they can choose among several tools, introduce all the tools to your staff, not just the one that works for you. We all have different needs, so one method may work better for one staff member, while something different works best for another.
  • Focus only on the end result. If you discover your staff followed a path different from your preference, take a look at their end result. Did they accomplish the goal? Did they complete it in a timely manner? Did they adhere to company policies? Did they appropriately use resources? If the answer is yes to all these questions, congratulate them on a job well done and discuss their technique. You may find it’s better than your preferred way of doing things.

Do you struggle with letting go and letting your staff find ways of accomplishing their tasks? We can help you with these and many other management challenges in our Gillespie Nimble New Manager JumpStart program.