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Kite surfing or How do you lead successful eager rookies?

Blog by Ingrid van Tienen, Deputy Director ORMIT Group


By Ingrid van Tienen

Deputy Director ORMIT Group

The best of both emerges when rookies are guided at the beginning of their career by experienced colleagues with a "rookie" mentality; colleagues who combine their experience and wisdom with the confident, inquisitive, playful and modest attitude of a "rookie".

Young, inexperienced trainees often perform surprisingly well and sometimes even better than their experienced colleagues. I notice this regularly with ORMIT young talents and we know it is not always obvious. A challenging and safe culture and leadership style is required to make people rise above themselves.

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Rookie smart Elodie at Brussels Airport Company

Responsibility and ownership

Without proper management and supervision rookies can be dangerous to themselves and others. Properly guided, they will however make a difference to the organisations they work for. The best of both emerges when rookies are guided at the beginning of their career by experienced colleagues with a "rookie" mentality; colleagues who combine their experience and wisdom with the confident, inquisitive, playful and modest attitude of a "rookie".

Good leaders give responsibilities and require ownership. In realising a steep and successful learning curve both the manager and the talent play an important role. For a manager, the challenge is to really unleash the talent and give him space to experience for himself, to make mistakes, then recover and learn from it. For a talent, it is crucial to step out of his own comfort zone and to ask for feedback and assistance in a timely manner when it is needed. A development-oriented mindset is essential for both of them.

Managing young talents: kite-surfing

Young talents do not enter an organisation unmarked either. They bring in their skills, their (life-)experiences and their potential. To make this potential flourish fully, they need direction and guidance. This requires a manager who knows when it is necessary to restrain the talent, but also recognises the right time to let go.

Consider kite surfing. An alert kite surfer holds the line firmly, veers the line and gives just enough tension to raise the kite. There are several ways for a manager to ensure that the talents of employees will be fully exploited and will grow further. The next three methods are very effective.

1. Freedom with a clear direction

Express clearly what the desired result is and explain why it is important. Connect the talents with experts who can provide the right input and guidance. Challenge the talents to get started and give them complete freedom to do it. Make it clear that you are there for them should anything go wrong. That way, you provide a safe basis from where your talents can start experimenting.

2. Tailor made challenges

Give challenging assignments that are tailor made so that they can eventually be achieved. This requires a good understanding of the qualities and potential of an individual employee. What is the right strain to put on him or her?  The most suitable are often micro challenges with a good balance between the need to leave the comfort zone to succeed and an acceptable risk factor; not only for the individual but also for his or her surroundings. Provide continuous feedback that helps your talents to stay on track and guide them when necessary.

3. Tightrope walking with a safety net

When talents work above their level, they are actually tightrope walking. It is inevitable that they will occasionally wobble and fall. A strong leader will not put his talents on the rope alone; he will make sure that they will be caught if they fall. A steep learning curve requires a strong safety net. The best safety nets appear often to be the experienced colleagues rather than the manager. The role of the manager is to connect the rookies to the routineers.

How do you recognize a good kite surfer?

In her book "Multipliers", the leadership guru Liz Wiseman separates leaders into diminishers and multipliers. A Diminisher reasons mainly from the mindset "My people need me. They can't make it without me.", while a Multiplier has a different reasoning: "My employees are smart and will find a solution by themselves." In practice, these different styles of leadership lead to a completely different approach on different issues.




"My people need me. They can't make it without me."


"My employees are smart and will find a solution by themselves."

Managing talents


Attracts talent but does not exploit its potential


Attracts talent, exploits and develops its potential optimally

Approach in case of errors 


Creates a tense atmosphere that will oppress people's capacities (lack of confidence)


Creates an intense atmosphere in which high demands are present.

Gives direction 


Provides direction showing how much he knows himself.


Creates opportunities in which people are challenged and stretched.

Decision making


Makes sudden and directive decisions that confuse people


Reaches decision by involving people in dialogue.

Getting things done


Micro-manages and interferes with every detail


Gives people ownership and invests in their success.

Not a "feel-good" manager

A Multiplier is not a "feel-good" manager but often a demanding and critical one. He or she recognises the talent of people and knows how to get the best out of them. This is not always a pleasant process and sometimes literally involves blood, sweat and tears. Often people only realise in retrospect that a Multiplier has challenged them to extremes and helped to get the best out of themselves; and eventually it makes them very proud of themselves and of the results achieved.

We are all Diminishers

Multipliers and Diminishers are not the two extremes of a continuum. In practice, every leader displays both diminishing and multiplying behaviours, without being aware of it. Often from good intentions, for example to help others, you take away from that same person a chance to take ownership, to solve the problem herself, to be proud and to learn from the experience. Good leadership begins thus with self-awareness and an understanding of the impact of their own behaviour on others.