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  • Becca Timmins

A tale of three Paraplanners or “Please just give it a go!”

Updated: Jul 23


I often hear leaders and managers express a wish that members of their team would be more proactive. I’ve wished it myself. Well, wishing clearly doesn’t work! So, what else could we do to tackle this?


If you’re not in Financial Planning, likelihood is that you’ve never heard of a Paraplanner!


Think logical, challenging, mind behind the scenes that brings the research, knowledge and report writing skills to the preparation of a client’s financial plan. A great one is quite simply worth their weight in gold.


Anyway – our tale begins with our three Paraplanners being asked to write a report for a client. It’s a particularly technical report that none of them have done before.


Jack is our first Paraplanner. He accepts the task, putting it to one side until his team leader chases him on it, when he responds “Oh I’m sorry, I haven’t started it yet because I didn’t know what I was doing”.


Selma is our second Paraplanner. She also accepts the task, and the following day, approaches her team leader to ask for some training in this new area.


Anja is our third Paraplanner. When she accepts the task, she immediately goes to look at the business log. She finds a previous, similar recommendation for another client, and goes to look at their file. She finds the earlier report, strips it back and creates a template from it, doing her best to add in all of the new client’s details from what she knows from their file. She takes her first attempt to her team leader, clearly explaining what she has done so far and why and asks for feedback.


As a manager, or a leader in any sector, we want a team full of Anja’s right? I’ve even heard people suggest that unless someone quickly proves that they are an “Anja” they are probably not good enough to be on their team.


I’ve always been uncomfortable with that. It is a view that suggests that attitude is all nature, and no nurture. That it therefore cannot be changed. It also assumes that as managers and leaders, we can’t influence attitude in others. That we don't have a part to play.


I think that’s pretty lazy leadership.


I’ve often wondered what makes some people super proactive and others less so.


What stops Jack taking some direct action? What stops Selma seeing how far she could get before asking for guidance. Are they lazy? Do they lack certain skills (and can those be taught…)? Or do they lack confidence in their abilities?


Could it be that their experience in the past has taught them that taking risks at work is dangerous? Or that only people with more experience, or seniority know the right answers? Or that getting things wrong is so completely unacceptable that it’s better not to try?


Liz Wiseman (author of Multipliers and Impact Players) says that if we really want people to perform at their best:


Leaders must create an equilibrium between safety and challenge.

Anja clearly felt safe enough to give it a go, and take the work she had done to her team leader, whether it was right or wrong. It’s a pretty vulnerable thing to do – to tackle something completely unknown and then ask for feedback on it.


Yes, Anja is clearly very proactive, but I would suggest that her life experience to that point has supported her in being that way. And her team leader must have made her to feel safe enough to voluntarily expose potential inadequacies and errors in her work. It could be that she has always been lucky with managers in the past (and parents, and teachers come to that).


It could be that there are people who will forever be like Jack.


But I suspect that percentage is pretty low. I have seen time and time again that with clearly expressed expectations (the “challenge” part of Liz Wiseman’s quote above) and an environment that is free of judgement, blame and reprisals (the “safety” bit) many, many more will thrive.


So next time you’re faced with a Jack or a Selma, consider this question:


What might they be assuming that stops them from being more proactive?


In fact - ask them the question. And then listen – really listen - to what they say. Find out what they think will happen if they make a mistake. What they have experienced in the past that makes them so cautious. Find out what they think your expectations of them are.

You might be surprised what you learn, and even more surprised by the potential you unleash as you work together to challenge those assumptions.


Carole Dweck’s work on growth mindset (here’s her Ted Talk as a taster) shows us that we learn so much more from our failures than we do from our successes (definitely, painfully true in my life!).


And yet so many of us hold the limiting assumption that failure is unacceptable.


It’s certainly an everyday struggle for me as a recovering perfectionist! Life experience so often shows us that mistakes and failures are punished, or ideas that disagree with the group, or the boss, are not ok.


But when live out this limiting assumption, we lose out on so much potential. As individuals, businesses, and communities.


Perhaps we be that change for those around us?


Demonstrate that on our watch, proactivity, difference of thought and opinion, and taking a smart risk is ALWAYS celebrated. And in doing so start to remove that limiting assumption that failure is unacceptable, replacing it with a far mor liberating (and true) one.


That to give things a go, to make a mistake and learn from them, to fail, then get back up and try again, teaches us far more than cautiously waiting on the side lines for someone to tell us what to do.


Maybe then we will all start to believe that failure is actually where the magic happens.


That taking risk actually exposes our brilliance.



The Thinking Environment can give you the tools to unlock potential and proactivity. If you would like to have a chat about how I could help you to support others to thrive, I would love to hear from you. Please do get in touch.


Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

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