Last year I rode up on a lift with an older gentleman named Bill, who was probably in his 70’s and looked totally rested after coming down a steep slope. He told me that he had been watching me that I was working way too hard. Bill’s opinion was that if you ski correctly it should not hurt. Well, since my thighs were burning and I didn’t look rested, I listened. He went on to explain that when you use the edge of your skis and carve, the skis do the work for you. The turn is effortless. You are no longer pushing snow. If snow flies up behind you when you ski then you don’t have the hang of it yet. I’ve been trying to achieve the effortless downhill carve ever since.
How much is this like leadership and our working lives? When we are using the tools provided to us and are changing direction without a fight, our jobs and our missions are more fun and doable. Every leadership challenge has steep and even bumpy moments. When those moments come up we should “carve”. Below are some common mistakes and solutions.
- Leaning back and hugging the mountain: In the business world this looks like hanging onto the past. Change is inevitable and the sooner it is embraced the more graceful you will be when leading.
- Schussing: This is not necessarily a mistake when skiing. Sometimes a skier (not me) will intentionally go straight down the hill without turning. In business, schussing can be a good idea for a short time. When you are sure of your destination and are focused on getting to the goal there is no need to reevaluate or readjust the path. However, with a longer term project or an ongoing responsibility it is important to adjust the path to the situation. Going too fast in the wrong direction is a bad and explosive way to make a mistake.
- Making lots of noise: If your skis are making a lot of scraping sounds then you are not carving. You are pushing snow around and expending a lot of unneeded energy. In business the noise can be excuses, procrastination, or being unwilling to get help. Be confident. Fully use your team. Use your experience. Get the right tools. Then carve.
- Edges not sharp: Perhaps you need a tuneup. If your skis or skills, in business, are dull then it will take more effort and you likely will lose that edge on a turn. Take classes in your field. Read magazines or online material about your products. Network with others who have similar challenges and compare notes. Stay sharp.
The analogy doesn’t hold completely. Sometimes it IS hard and there IS effort involved. It isn’t possible to always get down the tough slopes of the job without perspiration. But it is possible to reserve your strength for the exceptions.