I like to ski. The mix of the peace of riding the lift up and the rush of going down the hill and you have one great way to spend a day. When I first started skiing, I hated it. It hurt to fall, it was cold, and I couldn’t get the whole relax and let the skis turn as you shift weight thing. Then there was the whole feeling out of control barreling down the mountain and a severe lack of confidence in my ability to stop on command. Early on, I wiped out. A lot.
It wasn’t until I was focused on someone else and helping them stay upright on the skis that it all clicked for me. Suddenly, it started to make sense and confidence began to grow and before long I was skiing harder trails without wiping out.
As leaders, it can be difficult to navigate the trails in front of us without wiping out. There are many hazards and obstacles we face regularly that can cause us to lose confidence. If we aren’t careful, our wipeout can take out others as well.
We are all going to make mistakes and go through tough times. However, there is a big difference between a mistake and a wipe out. In leadership, mistakes can be overcome, wipeouts can be career enders, and even fatal.
Here are three lessons from the slopes that I believe are reasons some leaders wipe out…
1. Controlled by fear
Fear is powerful. It melts confidence and reduces even the strong to mush. Fear causes us to tense up and overreact. Fear leads us to make decisions based on conjecture and paranoia and what bad thing might happen.
The feeling of being out of control and fear of wiping out is a big part of what caused me to fall so much early on in learning to ski. My movements would be abrupt and ill timed. Panic would set in and before I knew it, I would be rolling or spinning down the hill with skis and poles flying everywhere.
As leaders, when we make decisions based on the fear of what someone might do or may be thinking or what could be lurking around the corner, we overreact. When fear rules, the leader gets paranoid. This cause the leader to become distant and closed off. Insecurity sets in and controls actions and decisions. Jealousy and vindictiveness rule interactions with others. Those around the leader end up on edge, frustrated, and stressed out. Fear spreads like an infection. Before long things are spinning out of control and the damage is flying everywhere.
It takes courage to lead. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it right action in spite of fear.
A leader ruled by fear will eventually wipe out and it will hurt.
2. Fighting momentum.
One of the hardest things for me to do when I started skiing was to lean forward on the skis going downhill. I wanted to lean back, that seemed more natural. However, I couldn’t keep my balance and had no control when I was leaning back because I was fighting the hill. I was fighting gravity. If you haven’t figured out by now, we can’t fight gravity.
As leaders, we must lean in to what we are doing. We must learn to ride momentum and not fight it. Momentum can’t be controlled, but it can be guided. As we are barreling along in our journey as a leader, the decisions we make don’t control the momentum, but they do decide if it constructive or destructive. Our decisions do determine if there will be a collision or not. Those choices keep us upright and moving forward or cause us to go down in a heap.
To lean in means to engage. Embrace those around you. Celebrate wins and build even more momentum. Even the small victories add up.
On the slope and in leadership, momentum will propel you forward into accomplishment or it will run you over. You and I must choose to lean into it and enjoy the ride or we can keep fighting it and end up bruised and battered.
3. Failure to rest.
As enjoyable as it is to ski, it also takes a toll on the body. Especially here in the midwest where the slopes tend to be a bit bumpy and icy. It so easy to just keep getting on the lift and going down the hill as soon as you get to the top and then right back on the lift again. If you only have an hour or two, that is the way to go, but if you are in for a longer haul, that won’t work. Every so often, it is good to take a few moments in the lodge resting and letting your muscles relax as you get some hydration and good fuel in your body. If not, as the day wears on, muscles begin to breakdown and can end up cramping, ligaments get strained, and weakness sets in. It only takes a moment coming over a rise for an overworked muscle or tendon to give out and not only is there a wipeout, but likely and injury to go with it.
In leadership it is so easy to get caught in a frenetic pace of constant activity. Go, go, go all the time. After all, most leaders are driven personalities. Leaders often believe that quantity of work leads to success. While hard work is an absolute necessity, it must be accompanied with rest to be sustained. We need time built into our schedule that allows us to step out for a bit and reset our minds and charge souls.
We need margin. We need to stop and notice the beauty of our surroundings. It is vital that we set a pace that can be sustained for the long haul. It does mean saying “no” to things at times. We can’t do everything. We can’t be everywhere.
As we learn to do this well, we will find enjoyment and peace. We will experience and appreciate more of the journey.
That is the one thing about skiing that I enjoy so much. Skiing isn’t about a destination, the point isn’t arriving at the bottom of the slope. The point is having a blast getting there.
We would be much more successful, much more fulfilled, much more enjoyable to be around, if we as leaders decided to put more focus and energy into the journey and less on the results. Results matter, yes, however, results are determined by the path we are on and the quality of the journey itself.