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Skiing Leadership Lessons, Part 2


In part 1, I explored building trust, listening and curiosity.


Here are some further thoughts, with cunning use of skiing metaphors, to illustrate a couple more key leadership principles.


Lesson 3 - Normalising


Skiing is kind of a weird thing to do: “Right, so this is how it works: put these bulky clothes and stormtrooper boots on, clip into these planks of wood, head up to the top of the hill and point them downhill. It’s fun!”. There are so many unusual things about skiing that it can be unsettling the very first time. Helping people to see that it is a pretty funky thing to be doing, with some humour, helps to reduce the levels of apprehension. Just like in any leadership role, taking people into new territory can be disorienting. Some people thrive on it, and others need additional reassurance.


One way to reassure people is to simply normalise the experience for everyone: “We’re going to head off-piste here. We will likely find the snow a little crunchy and harder to turn on than before. Let’s feel our way - you may want to play with a little more movement in your legs than before. Take it steady to start with and we’ll regroup at the marker over there.”


Lesson 4 - Empathy and Encouragement

Some people take to skiing like ducks to water. They start off (and normally remain) confident, often because they do other sports and believe they will be successful. They’re typically physically fit and have been there before psychologically, and they don’t need much from me at all - a little encouragement and a few ideas of what to do and they’re away! As they inevitably progress and improve, I see that my part in their success is largely that I helped them to avoid smashing themselves up due to over confidence!


Then there are people who experience a fair degree of fear. There are two primary fears with new skiers:

  • I am going to hurt myself (= a concern for personal safety)

  • I am going to reveal a weakness; for example I’m going to look stupid, inept, or embarrass myself (= a concern for status and what others think)

And underlying these fears is often a belief that they won’t be able to learn. I love the challenge of helping these people, especially kids. It is so rewarding to help them make progress despite their fear. I have great pride in the fact that I very rarely move people to a lower group, preferring to spend more time with them to help them succeed.


It’s so much more than a skiing lesson, it’s a powerful lesson in life. We all get scared, in our work and our personal lives, and all the best stuff - including confidence, a sense of success and achievement, financial rewards, and a feeling of worth and significance - is on the other side of that fear. Great leaders encourage their people to push their edges and comfort zones, to take appropriate risks and to see failure as a stepping stone to even greater success.


More to come in part 3!


Jon


This article is part of 100 Days of Creation, my challenge to myself to write 100 articles in 140 days, each taking no longer than 30 minutes to write and publish.

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