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May 9, 2022

Learning, growing, and developing can be incredibly fulfilling. One recent study revealed employees that are always learning new things are literally ten times more likely to give their best effort at work.

But as fulfilling as learning and growth can be, it isn’t always fun. For example, completing a marathon imbues most people with such a deep sense of accomplishment that they put stickers on their otherwise pristine car or wear ill-fitting race t-shirts. Yet the depth of fulfillment most feel is matched only by the volume of sweat and tears that were dripped throughout training. Are the sweat and tears worth it for most people? Absolutely. But let’s not pretend the process of achieving that big accomplishment is always fun.

Growth requires stepping outside comfort zones

Like running a marathon, mastering new skills at work, advancing one’s career, or taking on new job roles are all forms of growth that, while deeply fulfilling, aren’t always fun. Earning that promotion typically requires an employee to step outside their comfort zone, push themselves harder, and develop their weaknesses.

Unfortunately, lots of leaders are more content to let their people focus on their strengths rather than develop their weaknesses.

Let me explain: More than one million leaders have taken the test “What’s Your Leadership Style?

One of the questions asks respondents to choose between two conflicting statements:

  • I like to keep people focused on their areas of strength.
  • I like to push people to develop their weaknesses.

Currently, only about 44% of leaders choose to push people to develop their weaknesses. While having people work on their strengths isn’t exactly a recipe for disaster, neither is it a recipe for significant growth and development.

Staff want leaders that push them

Interestingly, 50% of people say that they want a leader that encourages significant growth. This is known as the Idealist style of leadership. Idealists want to learn and grow, and they want everyone else to do the same. They have a blend of challenging employees to hit big goals while caring deeply about those employees. This style is like the coach or teacher who says, “I’m going to push you really hard, but I’m doing it because I want you to be great.”

Another 18% of people want an even more intense leader, the Pragmatist. This leader has high standards, and they expect themselves and their employees to meet those standards. They’re driven and competitive, and they value hitting their goals above all else.

In other words, overall, about two-thirds of employees want a leader who’s going to force them to grow, even if that means a bit of occasional discomfort.

HR must provide some discomfort first

 In HR departments however, only nine percent of leaders are Idealists, and only six percent are Pragmatists (i.e., the two leadership styles most inclined to push employees outside their comfort zones). And while overall, 44% of leaders choose to push people to develop their weaknesses, only 36% of HR executives choose similarly. To really get their people to grown, HR professional are themselves going to have to demonstrate a significant mindset shift.

It’s certainly understandable that, in the current Great Resignation environment, HR leaders would view any notions of pushing employees skeptically. But it’s worth taking a look at why employees are quitting.

If a company is losing its least motivated and ambitious employees, then you can ignore everything I’ve said about pushing employees to grow and develop. But if you’re losing the best and brightest people, then it’s worth taking a very hard look at whether you’re developing them enough to retain them.