Jeremy Lin: Lessons from the Lin-sanity
Yes, we’re going there.
Not just because we’re crazy about Lin’s on-court heroics for the New York Knicks (although we are) or his off-court humility (which we also love.)
But because when you manage to put aside all hootin’-and-hollerin’ about Jeremy Lin, his nation-gripping story just so happens to offer an important lesson for business leaders.
Give your bench a chance.
That’s right, your bench. Those twenty- and early thirty-somethings in your place who you think need a little more exposure outside their functional area, or a few more years of people management, or maybe just plain more life experience before they move up a small rung to the next, wholly predictable level. Them. The ones you’ve got in a holding pattern because the company Establishment — which might very well include you, if you can bring yourself to admit it — has deemed they’re “not ready yet.”
Jeremy Lin is a reminder that one, two or even more of them might be ready for their own hoop dreams, if you’d only have the guts to take them off the bench.
Think about it. Some of the most successful companies in America today were started by guys barely into their shaving years – Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook being the most obvious examples.
But even putting aside those massive success stories, hundreds, if not thousands, of thriving companies of every ilk have sprung from the minds of youthful founders with passion, a great idea, some venture capital funding and, perhaps most important of all, no fatheaded old bureaucrat telling them, “Wait your turn.”
Now, clearly there are times when a young employee truly does need to mature, learn additional skills or get the proverbial rough edges smoothed off before he or she is handed a big hunk of responsibility. Indeed, all of us have seen the havoc that can be caused by people promoted too soon — before they knew how to get a bundle of ideas actually executed, or talk to a prickly subordinate about underperformance, or navigate a team through an unexpected competitive onslaught.
But such experiences too easily can become the standard excuse for letting “promising high potentials” – as they’re so often called — wait until resentment festers. And the worst part is, such career squashing even happens to individuals who’ve demonstrated they have something really special going on – who’re particularly smart and energized, for instance, and have a knack for getting people to rally around them.
Even they get the Jeremy Lin waiver treatment too often.
But look, the facts are, there’s really only an upside in giving such people the break they crave.
First of all, they may really do something amazing. That does tend to happen when people feel as if everything’s on the line. They grow, they stretch, they reach…and, well, they score.
Then there’s the organizational impact. Sure, some people might get cranky. “I was here seven years before I got to present to the board,” and the like. But for every bureaucracy-hugger in your organization, there will be many more motivated by the fact that passion and promise are being noticed — and actually count for something upstairs.
And finally, there’s the recruiting lift you get when you can legitimately tell great young candidates, “If you’ve got the right stuff and want to let it rip, your age will never hold you back around here. We’re all about giving people chances.”
Even if it means some chances will fail.
And some will, of course. That’s the way life is; it’s the nature of risk. Some promising young people do need more time, and some, even with opportunity handed to them, don’t have what it takes. Maybe even Jeremy Lin.
We sure hope not! His story, on and off the court, is amazing, inspiring and puts some unexpected pizzazz in this NBA season. It would be wonderful if he became a hero for the ages.
Regardless, we hope that while he’s still got everyone’s attention, people can come to see the perhaps lin-visible (sorry!) business message his story also sends.
Every company is filled with young talent just waiting to explode. Don’t let the bureaucracy keep them on the bench.
Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric for 21 years and is the founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University. Suzy Welch is an author, speaker and the former Editor of the Harvard Business Review.
PHOTO: New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin reacts in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks during their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, February 19, 2012. REUTERS/Adam Hunger