The Power of Apprenticeship



My son learned to ride a bike when he was 5 years old. He was so excited that we spent much of our weekends biking around the neighborhood. Over the fourth of July weekend that year, my four year old daughter who rarely rides her bike, decided she wanted to take off her training wheels and learn to ride too. We tried to encourage her to keep her training wheels on and practice more first before trying to advance her skills. She refused. I must tell you, this little girl is not easily deterred once she makes up her mind. So, dutifully, we took off her training wheels. She was clumsy of course and had several falls right away. At one point, she got so frustrated and said, “Why can’t I just ride my bike like my brother?” My husband looked at me and smiled and I looked to her and explained that her best bet was to go back to her training wheels for a little while longer. Reluctantly, she agreed.

My daughter’s request is not an unusual request. Lots of ambitious leaders want to go further and advance more quickly than their skill level or their organization is willing to support. It just so happens that days prior to the holiday weekend with my family, I was talking with a leader about his team member I am currently coaching. I shared with him that his team member, we’ll call him Mark, was anxious to grow and learn and was looking for additional ways to expand his development. Mark had been identified as someone with high performance and moderate potential with many signature accomplishments very early on in his career. Mark had also been identified as career ambitious and competitive which are qualities that are appreciated and fostered in his organization. So, it was no surprise he is motivated to grow even if he had not yet mastered riding with training wheels.

But Mark’s leader saw this differently and responded to my inquiry with, “There is something to be said about being in an apprenticeship, Angela. He needs to stay and grow, not move up and grow.”

Apprenticeship is defined as a person who learns a job or skill by working for a fixed period of time for someone who is very good at that job or skill.

Apprenticeship is an important part of the developmental process for leaders. Skipping a step or moving through a phase too quickly will lead to unnecessary falls, scrapes and bruises. Often, leaders crave moving forward because they are eager to advance their careers when they have not truly considered if it is in their best interest or the organizations. Their extreme confidence should be applauded but their arrogance curbed.

I define confidence as the appreciation for one’s own strengths and contributions and you can never have too much! But arrogance, on the other hand, I define as the lack of appreciation of the strengths and contributions of others and the lack of willingness to observe and respect your own limitations. Mark, and my daughter, lack this willingness. There is nothing wrong with having aspirations and determination, but it’s important to honor the developmental process, even if it feels slow. The obvious question here is “How do you know if you are feeling a lack of motivation because you are ready to advance to the next phase or because you are not focused and overlooking opportunities to grow in your current role?”

Take this quick assessment to learn more:

  • Are you a master of your current skill, role, job, responsibilities?

Yes __          No __

  • Have you been able to sufficiently measure or test your mastery so that it is visible to others?

Yes __          No __

  • Have you received feedback that you are at a mastery level?

Yes __         No __

  • Do you find that you are comparing yourself to others who have been able to move quickly rather than honestly evaluating your own readiness?

Yes __         No __

  • Are you restless in your current position because you want a bigger title and more money?

Yes __         No __

  • Do you feel pressure to reach a certain level by a certain timeframe in your life?

Yes __         No __


If you’ve answered NO to most of questions 1-3 and Yes to most of question 4-6, then it may be that your best bet is to keep the training wheels on a little while longer and stay and grow.

If the answer is YES to most of the questions 1-3 and No to 4-6, then your next step is a conversation with your leader that outlines your development needs, goals and aspirations. Come to this conversation prepared to talk about options you’ve explored and be open to options they see for you as well. Most, if not all, organizations I work with are struggling to find and keep good leaders. So, if you have completed your apprenticeship, and you’re ready, it’s likely your organization will be ready to move you up as well.

Keep in mind, training wheels serve a purpose. Don’t skip a step and don’t rush the developmental process. But always, no matter what, find the opportunity in whatever position you are in to grow.

Angela Sebaly

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