For supervisors to be “good companions” to their subordinates

In the previous article, we talked about the importance of observing while coming at it with a “ horizontal relationship” and withholding judgment and evaluation when aiming for people development that starts with subjective truth.

Having discussed the fundamental attitude toward people development up to this point, I would now like to talk about how to deal with subordinates at a more specific level. In order for subordinates to face adaptive challenges, it is important for supervisors to have the appropriate mindset.

We cannot replace the protagonist

The first premise is that it is necessary to recognize that “subordinates’ issues belong to themselves.

This may sound obvious. I have told you about the importance of reliving the situation and emotions by becoming the subordinate in order to perceive the subjective truth of the subordinate. I sometimes describe it as “putting yourself in the subordinate’s shoes”.

However, there are many people who want to understand their subordinates deeply but feel that they cannot “take it that far. The more sincerely and deeply one is committed to solving subordinates’ adaptive challenges, the more painful it may become.

Or, some may feel so deeply about their subordinates that they want to do something on their behalf. It is wonderful to have such a feeling of contribution to others, but we cannot take the place of the protagonist in the life story of our subordinates. Nor should we.

It is important to try to understand subordinates as if you were them. However, the issues you find there are only for your subordinate. Only the subordinate can solve his or her own issues.

What a third party can do is only to be a “companion” for growth. It is an image of standing next to your subordinate and looking in the same direction, after having tried on his/her shoes. What supervisors can do is to “not leave their subordinates alone”.

Let subordinates decide when the time is right

Another important premise is that it depends on the timing of subordinates to be able to face adaptive challenges.

It is a very tough activity because solving adaptive challenges requires updating our values. This is because values have in some aspects been formed as a “survival strategy” to protect oneself in one’s previous experiences.

For example, suppose a person applied to a name-brand company for a job but was not successful and could not give up.

Even if the people around him try to recommend other paths, he will not listen to them because “name value” is more important than anything else in his mind. The value system of “a company with name value is good” acts as a “belief” that “a company with name value is the only way to go,” and the person is stuck in this situation.

The background of the formation of these values is the experience of being imprinted by parents and others close to them with the importance of school and professional name value, and being accepted by behaving accordingly. This is how values are formed as a “survival strategy.

To question the values that have been formed in a “survival strategy” manner is an act that feels very dangerous. It may be similar to the feeling of having one’s very identity denied.

This is why the energy of the individual is so important. In the following figure, it is necessary to determine if the area is “an area that can be challenged with the support of others” (after the person has sufficient energy).

From an objective standpoint and with a wealth of life experience, we may be able to see clearly the adaptive challenges of our subordinates. Sometimes we can even see the path to a solution.

Still, however, we cannot force or induce the individual to face adaptive challenges.

Simply pointing out from the outside, “You have these adaptive challenges,” will not lead to a direct solution. This is because the only way to address adaptive challenges is to become aware of them by oneself.

Rather, it can be counterproductive for others to point out the problem when the person is not ready.

As mentioned earlier, there are aspects of values that have been formed in a “survival strategy” manner which require updating for the person. If a person is suddenly asked by others to “doubt” these values, he or she will only feel threatened if he or she is not ready. If he or she is not prepared to face it head-on, there is a possibility that he or she will escape.

Therefore, it is extremely important to determine whether the individual is ready to face the adaptive challenges.

More specifically, this means making sure that

・Does he/she really want to solve the current situation where he/she is running into adaptive challenges?
・Does he/she have the physical and mental strength to do so?

However, it is recommended that we do not actively work on him/her, but rather watch and wait to see “when will his/her energy turn?” If he/she is ready, the process of facing the adaptive challenges will start naturally.

Do you really want to help address adaptive challenges?

Another thing that is just as important as the timing of the individual is whether the “ supporter (supervisor)” really wants to help address adaptive challenges.

When I talk about approaching subordinates with their adaptive challenges, I am often asked the following question.

“I understand the importance of facing adaptive challenges and the importance of dialogue through 1-on-1s or other means. But how can I find the time in my busy schedule to do so?”

There is a trade-off between daily operations and people development. If one is thinking in this way, I believe that, to put it simply, “ he or she has not yet truly understood the importance of the adaptive challenges.”

Whether or not we truly know the impact of addressing adaptive challenges by heart is shown in “how we use our time.” Are they able to set aside time not only to do their own work, but also to talk with their subordinates, such as 1-on-1s?

Daily operations and people development are not inherently trade-offs, but rather go hand in hand. And it is only when people are nurtured that results are achieved, and when results are achieved, opportunities for challenge increase and people are nurtured even more easily. Those who are aware of this are those who consider “nurturing people” as their most important job.

On the other hand, however, there is also a view that this is only an “ideal”
(unrealistic) thing to do. It really takes time and a lot of mental and physical energy on the support side to attend to a person’s adaptive challenges.

The support side needs to be naturally energized to work with the adaptive challenges. If they are not naturally energized, it is no wonder that they are inclined to make trade-offs with their daily work.

It would be difficult to try to force that situation to be resolved in the short term. In such cases, we can wait for the answer to come down to us, asking the question, “What would be the situation in which I would naturally feel energized about being there for my subordinate’s adaptive challenges?”

The reason for taking it slow like that is that “naturally energized to face the adaptive challenges of our subordinates” might be one of the adaptive challenges for us, the supervisor. Just as we cannot resolve our subordinates’ adaptive challenges immediately, we need time to deal with our own adaptive challenges.

When the time is right for us, I hope that we will start the journey of working with our subordinates on their adaptive challenges.

It is a good experience for the supervisor to try to work with the subordinate in the process of overcoming his or her adaptive challenges. Be receptive to the contradictory situation and take the time to find a solution. This is the essence of problem solving, which can be applied to various aspects of business and organizational management. I believe that the closer one is to top management, the greater the benefit of experiencing the process of helping others solve their adaptive challenges, and I believe that this is essential experience.

The message I wish to convey this time is that it requires the timing and energy of both the supervisor and the subordinate to face the adaptive challenges. I hope that you will take the time to face your subordinates and yourself over a long time time frame, rather than trying to solve the problem immediately.

Here are the quests of the day. (If you’d like, please share your thoughts in the comments.)

・Think of a situation where you were in the Panic Zone, Comfort Zone, and ZPD, respectively. What sensations and feelings did you have in each situation?

・Think of one of your subordinates or junior staff members. Which of the following is his/her recent level of challenge at work: Panic Zone, Comfort Zone, or ZPD?

Bunshiro Ochiai



Founder and CEO of a training company, Alue | MS in Particle Physics. | BCG | Questing “What is the paradigm for integrating contradictions in management?”

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Bunshiro OCHIAI

Founder and CEO of a training company, Alue | MS in Particle Physics. | BCG | Questing “What is the paradigm for integrating contradictions in management?”