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PA110476Though some of my best childhood memories involve family tramps through the woods, I grew up in the midwest.  It was flat.

As an adult, I was a recovering distance runner the first time I went to Nepal, in good shape for someone who mostly sat at a desk.

I had never hiked in high altitude conditions.   So I trained.  A couple of local hiking trips, lots of stairs, and “hiking” around lower Manhattan with a heavy daypack.

Near the end of that long first day, our guides pointed out our campsite.   To get there, we’d have to cross a river.  Via a suspension bridge.

And, oh yeah, I was kind of afraid of heights, too.

Looking across the bridge, terror wasn’t completely eclipsed by the desire to lay down my pack, eat, and collapse in my tent.   Traveling with a group spurred me on.  Nobody would eat until everyone made it to camp.

One foot in front of the other, I crossed the bridge.  Heart in my throat.

I’m not sure what could have prepared me to hike up to 18,000 feet.  Except for attempting to hike up to 18,000 feet.

This is true when we manage people.  We can prepare ourselves through study and reading.  Our managers, mentors, and coaches can guide us, and point out landmarks.   And we can stoke our motivation with knowledge that the rest of the group needs us to keep moving.

The rickety bridge, for many, is letting someone on your team know when they need to tweak their performance.   Or if they’ve made a misstep.   Or maybe a new person needs a little more coaching on how to fit in.

The best time to do this is almost always today.

And we’re verging on mid-year:  if your organization has year-end performance reviews, it’s wise to invest time evaluating how your team is progressing towards your goals.

And then (hu)man up.   Step onto that bridge.   Have that conversation.

And by the way, this is smart even when the whole team is on target.   Let them know what they’re doing well!

The thing that prepares you to manage, is actually managing.   The essential work of managing is talking to people about how they’re performing, and finding out how you can support them.  Do it.

By the trip’s end, I had crossed many more of those bridges.

And I’m not afraid of heights any more.

You can find some of my performance management resources for managers at painlessreviews.com.

Crossing the Suspension Bridge, by John Pavelka, via Flickr.   Used under Creative Commons License.