Las Quebradas de Jujuy, Argentina
My fingers clutched the only two stones protruding from the dry and dusty escarpment. A ninety-degree drop immediately to my right, a stone wall to my left, and no sight above my head of where the climb might end, I decided to go back down. Unable to see my feet, I gently reached back with my boot, trying to find a place to support my weight. The blood rushed to my face and a chill ran up my spine as the loose stones dislodged and tumbled to the valley below: I was stuck.
A lot of people also feel stuck in their jobs; they have great ideas but they don’t find support to move forward.
My cliff-hanging experience described above happened when my family and I were on vacation in the hills surrounding the village of Huacalera in the province of Jujuy, Argentina. The town sits on what was once an important Inca trade route along the foothills of the Andes. The region today is one of Argentina’s principal tourist attractions with its multi-colored landscapes, adobe buildings, and colorful regional celebrations. We had also heard that you could find some amazing fossils if you had the patience to sift through the rocky soil looking for them.
On our first morning there, we hiked up the quebrada and it wasn’t long before Dawn and the kids became enthralled with their search for souvenirs. I was more interested in climbing, so I went on up the trail where I found an interesting spot to make my ascent and started crawling up the stones.
Captivated by the experience, I didn’t realize how high I was getting and, at one point, I looked around and noticed that I was actually on a ridge. A few feet to my right, there was a sheer drop-off, as though I were on top of a building several stories high. That is when I got stuck. I had two problems: first, I couldn’t see where to place my feet and, second, when I tried, the stones would dislodge and create a little avalanche behind me. I was in trouble. Not finding the support behind me, I felt panicky, confused, and afraid—How could someone let themselves get into such a predicament?
When people muster the courage to strike out into some new and innovative endeavor—whether climbing a mountain or designing a new work process—their level of confidence is high. Then they run into the inevitable challenges and that is when they need someone to come alongside and provide support. When that support is not there, they may feel that the organization has left them high and dry. When they have to face the challenges on their own, and when their initial efforts at innovation receive no support from the organization, their inclination may be to abandon the idea altogether. How many potential innovators give up because they found no support when they tried to express their idea?
Even though I found no support when I was stuck on the cliff in Argentina, I ended up finding a solution. My only choice was to keep going up, so I did, eventually reaching the crest of the cliff and then, exhausted, bleeding, and thirsty, I simply slid down the other side.
As leaders, we have an opportunity to help people grow by providing support for innovative ideas. Some innovators, even without that support, will move forward on their own to develop amazing careers. Others will simply let their ideas drop out of focus, never bringing them up again. They learn to be content with mediocrity and their potential is wasted.
Organizations lose great talent every day because they fail to give voice to the ideas of their creative employees. Great supportive leadership, however, can help those great ideas and great employees stay in the company.
Do you agree? Is part of our responsibility as leaders to support innovative ideas? How much of a problem do you think this is in organizations today?