Street Smarts

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Develop Street Smart s

How can I teach my people to have common sense: street smarts? I was having an informal discussion with a couple of other business owners and one of them posed this concern from one of his clients.

Really, the only way to get street smarts is to be on the street. It’s great if you can hire someone who already has the knowledge and experience you need, but that’s often unlikely. The fact is, people will grow into the job; if you let them.

So how do you develop common sense, street smarts, in your team members?
It starts with hiring the right people. Experience is nice, but probably more important is an ability, and willingness, to learn. Most important is integrity. If your new hire doesn’t have that, it doesn’t matter how much experience or common sense they have.

Give your team members a chance to learn. That involves both an education component and a training component. Education is learning skills. Training is learning how to put those skills to work. I provide education in the skills necessary to create great leaders. But I could teach leadership skills until the sun explodes and never cover the exact situation a leader will face tomorrow. It’s working with those leaders to develop the ability to apply those skills that will make them the most effective leaders.

That also means expecting and allowing for mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes at some point and the way a leader reacts to those mistakes will determine how team members develop. If mistakes are viewed as unforgiveable transgressions team members will strive to not make mistakes and will end up not improving either. But, when a leader treats mistakes as a learning opportunity, team members will be more likely to find new and better ways to do their job.

One of the ways your team members will develop those street smarts is trying new things and that means leaders must have a certain level of risk tolerance. New ideas, better processes, and innovation don’t just happen. Team members must know that the boss has their back as they try new ideas. Sure some of those ideas will not work, but others will. Sometimes that risk tolerance is a little scary, but it’s essential. The leader who isn’t willing to accept any risk is also not willing to improve.

If you want your team members to have street smarts you have to let them get on the street. Start with the right people who have integrity and a desire to learn. Give them the skills they need and help them learn to apply those skills. Accept mistakes as a normal part of learning and improving. Develop risk tolerance that will provide a culture of innovation.

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