How to kill curiosity


Recently, trowel in hand, I turned on a ladder to discover Patrick, 13, standing behind me. “Is that how you tile?” my grandson asked, excited eyes sweeping along the kitchen wall. “That doesn’t look so hard. Can I do it, Nana?”

I looked at the subway tile, thinking it did look professionally laid… and thinking I wanted it finished that way as well. “Let’s not try a vertical wall your first time out, bud, but I’ll explain what I’m doing so you can help when I tile a flat surface.”

His smile faded, but he stood resolute as I explained and demonstrated the boring details. Likewise, he patiently stood a respectful distance away as I used a Dremel to ground down slate stone on a curved countertop, though he obviously was itching to hold the enticingly dangerous machine.

“How do you know how to do all this stuff?” Patrick asked. I explained that it was mostly learned while watching great-uncles Herb and George flip houses. I was indulged with a hammer at an early age and it seems I’ve always known how to build.

“Does my mom know how to do all this stuff, too?” Patrick asked.

No, sadly none of my children learned how to tile, garden, can vegetables, sew, knit, crochet, or build, though I did teach P.J. how to lay hardwood floors when I needed his help.

“Why don’t they know?” Patrick persisted.

Why indeed? They did, after all, grow up in a home where Mom finished a basement, carpeted floors, built a fireplace, and added closets and a porch. Why don’t they know the difference between a jigsaw and a miter saw? Surely my kids were as fascinated with power tools as my grandchildren seem to be. Surely they had asked to help, too.

Though I told Patrick that they must not have been as curious as he was, the truth was that I was too busy doing things to mentor skills, wanting to quickly finish one project and then move on to the next important thing awaiting my attention. I didn’t nurture their curiosity. Nor did I think, at that moment, to offer Patrick a little wooden bench, some mortar and broken tiles, and let him practice on that while I explained the process. Another opportunity lost to fully engage a willing mind.

In the workplace, like in my kitchen, too few managers remember to nurture skills or encourage talents. When we do delegate, we make it about us – what we want – forgetting to let our mentees know what they will learn or contribute by doing the task. We forget to clearly define what progress checks we’ll be making, or what success should look like. As a result, we either micromanage a task or allow them to play the Teflon game and hand the job back because, after all, we can do it better. But so long as we never teach them to perform to our level, we’ll extinguish their desire (and ability) to work with us.

Something to think about….

About Jody Glynn Patrick

Jody is President of Glynn Patrick & Associates, which provides management consulting, executive coaching and strategic planning services. She is Publisher Emeritus of In Business magazine, which she published for 17 years. Selected as the “U.S. Business Journalist of the Year” in 2007 in Washington, DC, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jody has been a business reporter, editor, radio talk show host , and has won other state and national journalism awards. At the same time, she has helped corporate clients grow their businesses -- the basis for her practical coaching advice here. She also was the 2005 Athena Award recipient for her leadership role in mentoring other professional women. Jody will be talking with you weekly on TDS’ blog to share her insights and tips from the C-Suite perspective. Follow on G+.

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