Sink or Swim?

As leaders one of our jobs is to get people out of their comfort zones.

We need to do this in order to expand what they are capable of, to help them achieve their full potential.

There are many ways of doing this: we can just throw them in the deep end and see whether they sink or swim.

I know that this is quite common approach, and the one that was used with myself when I took on my first leadership role. I hadn’t been trained, prepared and I received little to no support, it really was a sink or swim opportunity.

Fortunately, I survived.

I certainly learnt a lot from that experience, but in all honesty it wasn’t pleasant and it’s not something that I would describe as successful or the best approach to developing people.

It’s clear that many people are capable of more and they need to overcome their fears and self doubts, but is really throwing a non-swimmer in the deep end the best way to teach them to swim?

Many times I have sat in meetings where it has been agreed to give someone a chance, put them in a role they are not fully ready for, and then support them, only for that support not to materialise, and for the situation to end in disaster and the individual being criticised for their failure.

In my opinion that’s not developing people, that’s abandoning them and leaving them to see if they cans survive on their own.Thats not leadership!

Its much better to help people to extend their comfort zones, push them to the limits of what they can do and then support them to achieve even more.

Give them the confidence that they will have the help they need, and will not be left alone and blamed if they fail. We need to create a trusting safe environment.

The sink or swim approach will just make people look to remain within their comfort zones, it will not encourage or foster their growth and development.

For every person where this approach works there will be nine where it ends in failure.


Gordon has worked in Transformational Leadership roles for over 20 years, running $100m+ programs, leading $200m+ Global Operations Departments, and implementing large complex Organisational Change programs for Fortune 100 companies. Gordon is an Inspiring Leader who not only sees the big picture, can communicate a vision, but who also rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty, which has helped him build highly motivated teams wherever he has worked. Now Gordon is the CEO and Founder of L...

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