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How Leaders Can Help Others Find Their Path

Clarity and transparency can help them find their way

For a long time, I was pretty skeptical of those bumper stickers that say, "Not all who wander are lost." Thanks to a strict Midwestern upbringing, I was certain that not knowing your direction was an error, especially if the direction you weren't going in was up.

But on this day after Labor Day, when everybody is in buckle-down mode after the summer and before the winter holidays, I think it's worth noting there's a good organizational case to be made for understanding that some of your people will want to wander. Not slack off, not leave—explore. Improve their skills, but not necessarily in prescribed directions. Not every staffer craves a corner office; not every volunteer wants to become board chair.

Leaders often intuitively understand this, no doubt, but the career- and volunteer-development processes they create don't always reflect that understanding. That issue was top-of-mind for speakers at the recent MIT Sloan Management Review symposium, who pointed out that employees—excepting conventional “high performers'—generally don't know where their growth paths are in an organization. Moreover, those growth paths are often strict and siloed.

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