I don’t know many farmers. But, when I meet someone who was raised on a farm, I like to ask how old they were when they learned to drive the tractor. Turns out it is a significant rite of passage—the day that they felt responsible for their family’s property and were expected to contribute to their family’s income.
Rites of passage take on many forms in different cultures: Bar and Bat Mitzvah rituals, quinceañera celebrations, religious confirmations, graduations, marriage ceremonies, drivers license tests, and so on. All of them mark a significant change, many come with increased responsibility, and they often include a celebration. We prepare our children for the rites of passage that are in keeping with our family’s values, religious traditions, and other cultural norms, and we are so very proud when they reach them.
In the workplace, rites of passage are often tied to promotions, increased responsibility, or changes in responsibility that come with lateral job moves. Just like parents, leaders play an important role in helping employees achieve these milestones. I love this quote by Jack Welch: Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
However, growing others isn’t just making sure that employees can learn the skills and check off the accomplishments needed for promotion. In the companies I’ve worked for, there have always been more nuanced expectations. For example,
- Does this person take initiative?
- Do they take appropriate risks?
- Do they mentor others?
- Do they have what it takes to work with customers?
- Do they care about the success of the company?
As leaders, we need to know about these unspoken qualifications and make sure our employees have opportunities to demonstrate them. We need to coach them and ensure that they are prepared for the next steps in their careers. And, just like a proud parent, we should feel a sense of accomplishment when our employees achieve these corporate rites of passage.
I believe that all of us want to make a difference and feel that sense of responsibility that must come with learning to drive a tractor on a farm. What is the equivalent rite of passage in your family? In your organization? What are you doing to help prepare your kids or your employees? I look forward to learning from you.
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© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.