It was the late 60’s and I was getting ready to give my oral report in music class on Marie, Captain Von Trapp, his children, and their exploits to ultimately escape the German Army. I was well prepared but extremely nervous of speaking in front of my class. That is a huge understatement – I was petrified! When my turn came, I had worked myself up so much that I ultimately broke down and cried in front of my classmates and teacher. It was traumatic – especially for an eleven year old in a small, rural school.
That same evening I received a call from my pastor – Rev. Clark. She explained she had been to the doctor that day and had been diagnosed with a severe throat problem. She would need to limit her speaking during Sunday services. She needed my help. Without hesitation I said “sure, I am happy to help.” – it was my pastor right? Three days later I got back up on that ‘horse’. Each Sunday morning, for the next several months, I got up and addressed our full congregation. I was still nervous when it was my turn to present, but I continually improved and gained confidence. Years later, I found out my 5th grade homeroom teacher had called Rev. Clark about my embarrassing situation.
Taking a genuine interest in a person’s development is a global driver of employee engagement. My story reinforces four key principles in personal development:
- Be creative. My homeroom teacher found a ‘safer’ place for me to practice public speaking and someone who also had a genuine interest in me. Employees do not appreciate leaders who only give out ‘cookie cutter’ advice and ‘one size fits all’ personal development solutions.
- Step-by-Step. I was given small amounts of speaking at church and had more responsibilities added as I improved. Change took time. Leaders should avoid getting impatient and rely on a ‘one and done’ development activity for their employees.
- Take prudent risks. Rev. Clark allowed me to become a significant contributor in her service for 80-100 parishioners. She took a risk. Leaders need to take some risks – empower employees - and reinforce they believe in their employees’ skills, abilities, and potential.
- Provide timely, specific feedback. After each Sunday service, I received specific feedback on things I did well and things I needed to improve on. This fueled my confidence and a desire to do even better next time. Leaders must complement their formal performance feedback process with timely informal assessment, recommendations and comments.
When employees see someone investing time and energy into their personal development, the relationship strengthens, trust grows, and extra commitment as well as effort follows. Because of two ladies’ commitment to my personal development over 40 years ago, public speaking has become a major component in my successful career. How can you personally invest in your employees’ development and help them be more successful?