Why letting go is key to your growth

March 5, 2019

Letting go is key to your growth. I will use pole vaulting as an analogy to illustrate this point.

Pole vault

As you’d know, pole vaulting is a track and field event in which an athlete uses a long flexible pole as an aid to jump over a bar. It is a spectacular sport. I love watching it.

As the pole tip touches the pole vault box, the pole vaulter takes off the ground. As he rises in the air helped by the recoil energy of the pole, he reaches the bar and then gets ready to be ejected off the pole. At that moment, he needs to let go of the pole so that he can jump over the bar.

But what if the athlete does not let go of the pole?

I use the ‘pole vault’ analogy during my coaching sessions. You know what! I have seen several cases of people not letting go of the pole at THAT moment.

Letting go is key to your growth

At the beginning of our career, we normally start off as an Individual Contributor, leveraging our technical skills. We become better at our technical skills, become a Subject Matter Expert, solve problems, and earn our stripes. We become a hard-core ‘technical’ pole vaulter.

At a certain point, in recognition of our contribution, we are offered a People Manager role.

In the new People Manager role, we are expected to help others succeed where we manage their performance. It is no longer about doing it ourselves, rather, getting things done through others. To jump over the bar and become a People Manager, it is important to let go of the ‘I-will-do-it-myself’ pole. If we continue to hold this pole and refuse to let go of it, we will come crashing down without effectively crossing over. I do find individuals in a People Manager role but running with the old Individual Contributor pole.

Letting go and career progression

Every time we move across levels in our career, we are expected to let go of the pole to jump over a new bar. Upon landing on the other side, we are sure to get another ‘pole’, which will look and feel quite different. Every time we jump over a new bar, it signifies growth in our career. Also, every time we have successfully jumped over a new bar, it means that we have let go of that pole.

As we get to more senior positions, the impact of letting go or not letting go is huge. For instance, it is very compelling in the case of someone who has been seen as potential ‘senior leadership material’. Although the person may be offered opportunities to grow into that leadership position by doing new stuff unless the person lets go of the pole of what he has been doing till now, he can never jump over the bar.

What not ‘letting go’ shows up as

How does ‘not letting go of the pole’ show up? Well, if you insist that all emails are marked to you, insist on being present in all the meetings, develop a team that is expected to let you know of every minor development, and nothing much moves without your permission or intervention, you can be sure that you are unwilling to ‘let go of the pole’. Also, if you are extremely proud of the ‘pole’ that you have been running with, you will never let go of it. This is a sure sign of insecurity.

During my coaching assignments, I see this happening at all levels. I see this in the founders of not-for-profits and start-ups who are unable to facilitate the transition of power and authority. I see this in many of my corporate coaching clients who are always drowning in work although they have a team. They seem to have no time. They are forever involved in stuff that is way below their pay grade. I see this issue in those clients who approach me through my website too. Many of them are struggling to let go.

Getting out of the trap

If this situation resonates with you, how do you get out of this trap?

The day you realize that the benefit of jumping over a new bar and gaining access to a new ‘pole’ far exceeds the cost of holding on to the same ‘pole’, you will let go of the pole.

The benefit is likely to be visible when you can actually imagine your evolved role in the future.

Thereafter, the process of letting go of the pole will entail effective delegation, grooming and celebrating new leaders under yourself and liberating yourself to get ready to jump over a new bar. Effective delegation is the best way to assure your career progress.

Letting go will show up in the way your day is being spent – not doing things that you have been doing in the past while having the satisfaction of seeing others in the team doing the same things effectively.

Until you see the benefit, you will continue holding on to the same pole as if your life depends on it. You may still move across levels but, in effect, you will actually be doing stuff that you have always been doing. It is in such cases that you end up playing a smaller game than what you merit.

Roles of leaders and coaches

Leaders can play a role in facilitating the process of ‘letting go’. They need to show these individuals the benefit of jumping over the bar and handhold them through this Change. Personal anecdotes will help. External coaches like me encourage them to let go by helping them reimagine a new future.

As a coach, it is always fulfilling to watch a coachee let go of the old and embrace the new with excitement and hope.

By the way, this transition is as spectacular to watch as pole vaulting.


In my coaching sessions pertaining to the topic of ‘letting go’, I help individuals at all levels reimagine a new future. Read more about it here.

I work with them to help them imagine the Big Game that they ought to be playing. Once they feel drawn by the new possibilities, the next step is to create a road map to reach there. This path will certainly mean outgrowing the current portfolio which means letting go of the ‘pole’. It is fascinating to see people embracing the new possibilities and watch the magic of transformation unfold in them.

Interested in playing your Big Game? Contact me at [email protected] and let’s play your game.

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