The Kid Who Couldn't Climb
02 June 2019
by Timothy Bentley
At the age of nine, Jimmy was a faster bike rider than most of the kids in the neighborhood, a competent softball player, and a decent student.
One summer day, he and I set out with a couple of other kids to have an adventure. At the curve of the river, where centuries of erosion had cut away the clay, was the cliff we called Blue Banks.
Usually, we swam in the river, but this particular day we started teasing each other. "You're scared to climb the cliff." "No, you're a big chicken yourself!"
At first, it was easy to scramble up the slope, but as we moved higher, the cliff face became almost vertical. Fifty feet up, looking at the sparkling blue river below, my stomach was suddenly queasy.
Beside me, Jimmy's handhold broke away, the clay clattering down Blue Banks. With tears in his eyes, he moaned, "I can't go up and I can't get down. I'm scared."
We argued with him, "You can do it!" But he was paralyzed with fear.
So the rest of us scrambled to the top, ran to find an adult, and lowered a ladder. Jimmy grabbed a rung, and quickly climbed to safety.
Getting Unstuck Restores Confidence
The day after our climb, Jimmy was still the fastest bike rider in the neighborhood, a competent softball player, and a decent student. There was nothing inadequate about him. He simply got stuck on a particular cliff.
The challenge, for those of us who work with people, is to help them extricate themselves from situations that make them appear, and even feel, incompetent.
How Feedback Helps
Training and development are among the best ways of lowering a ladder. The recipients still have to do the work, but now there's a tool to support them.
360-degree feedback is especially valuable because it clearly identifies the things at which they excel. It reminds them to stay committed to the skills that have made them successful, and identifies areas where they need further development.
So when everyone is urging you to cut back on your support for people, keep the faith. There are a million Jimmies stuck on cliff sides out there, some of whom who could be propelling your organization to greater success.
All they need is a little help getting unstuck.
[A 60-Second Consultant encore.]
Timothy Bentley is Chief Operating Officer of Panoramic Feedback.