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Staff Leadership and Management

Adults Aren’t Mature – Get Over It!


You’re an adult. You work with other adults.

And neither of those statements guarantees maturity.

Get over it.

Before you stop reading, insulted and angry at me, let me clarify where this is headed.

I write this in order to rid you of the nearly universal frustration that results in the assumption of adult maturity. An assumption that leads to all sorts of gnashing of teeth.

Whenever I’m working in an organization in my consulting practice that focuses entirely on employee job satisfaction and leadership development, I listen with keen ears anytime there’s mention of things like this: “Well, we’re all adults here…” or “We’re all professionals so…” Nonsense! The fact is that we can all name 10-year-olds with whom we commune who are wicked mature. And we can also probably name 45-year-olds with whom we commune who are wicked immature. “Age” and “maturity” are not the same thing.

Once we accept that basic fact, we’re able to be increasingly purposeful in how we manage adults and our relationships with coworkers.

There’s no insult in that. In fact, the recognition that we can’t assume maturity is in and of itself a mature organizational realization. Mature organizations embrace their own immaturity. You dig?

So if we accept Truth #1 that “adults aren’t always mature” that allows us to explore Truth #2: things left to accident or false assumptions almost always skew negatively.

Read that again. How true it that in your organization? For the most part, those of us who work with youth make the correct assumption that kids are immature. We make the correct assumption that if we leave kids entirely to their own devices things tend to norm negatively. (Anyone read Lord of the Flies recently?) And because we work backward from those assumptions, we actively pursue strategies, policies, and pro-social norms to combat those negatively skewing tendencies. We teach them how to ask questions, follow rules, engage in conflict, problem-solve, and be members of a civil society. We teach them these lessons over and over and over until they get it. We course correct. We use wisdom and planning to guide their behavior. And we rejoice when they begin to make awesome decisions on their own volition.

But do we do the same for the adults in our organization?

Do we teach them how to solve conflicts? Do we articulately share our expected behaviors? Do prod and push with wisdom to create social norms that reflect the very norms we’re espousing for young people? In other words: have you translated the tremendous work you’re doing for young people into language and policies that apply to adults?

If not, it’s time to step it up.

If you haven’t been as clear and purposeful with your adults as with your children, don’t be frustrated when adults let you down.

They will. It’s called being human. You know those frustrations you had last year? Are you having them with adults again this year? Will you be having them next year? If so, you need to sit down, look me in the eyes, and tell me specifically what you’re doing to modify and improve the behaviors that are leading to those frustrations. In the absence of a coordinated and thoughtful response to difficult adult behaviors, you’re inviting peril.

Despite the somewhat sober tone of this post, it’s actually might be the most empowering, freeing thing you’ll read all week. The reality is that once you stop leading by accident and start leading with intent, the worries of today become the areas for growth for tomorrow. You can start immediately to intervene, coach, and nurture your colleagues and employees with the same degree of care and thoughtfulness that you’re using with your young people. You can begin to rid yourself of anxieties you’ve been carrying simply by engaging wholeheartedly in the development of the people around you. The liberation that comes from no longer operating on the false assumption of adult maturity can be profound. I invite you into a new space. You’ll like it here.

I do not wish you good luck in this process. I wish you good skill.

Take all that you know about young people – the brilliant work you’re already doing – and apply it the systems, protocols, training, and development of your staff. The awards will be immediate.

For breakfast, I had two eggs, toast, turkey bacon, avocado, and coffee.

Author: Nathan Eklund

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