Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Moses am I sore!

About a month ago I took my two boys snowboarding. I have been a snow skier most of my life and have always enjoyed the experience. I quickly became bored with skiing after moving to the Midwest from the Northeast when I realized that when Midwesterners refer to skiing on “the hill” they are being literal. Mountains are mountains in the Northeast, and in the Midwest, well… not so much. I love Chicago, but remember that in the Midwest you can go two hours in almost any direction and you’re still in a cornfield.

So, at forty seven years old I thought I would try snowboarding. Despite the limited challenge of the terrain, I am now learning humility all over again. I’m learning that change is difficult (and painful), especially when you’re doing things that on the surface may seem similar, but in reality are vastly different. The landscape is the same, the tools are made out of the same material, you use the same machinery to get you to the top, but that’s where it ends. For all that’s similar, there’s that much more that’s different.

I had assumed that the skills I used that made me successful as a skier could make me successful on “the board.” Wrong. Balance, coordination, timing on the turns, managing the speed, using the edges for control, all different. This becomes crystal clear to you on two occasions: the first is getting off the chair lift, and the second is trying to stop so you don’t kill someone innocently waiting on “the hill.”

It’s odd that skills that make us successful can hurt us even more when applied to situations that seem similar. Skills that enable us can disable us just as quickly (sometimes literally). I didn’t do this because I am a masochist. I didn’t do this because I was bored (well sort of). I really did this because I needed to accomplish something I didn’t think I could do. I am determined to snowboard the black diamonds at the top. I was looking to test myself and see if I could adapt and change.

By the way, this lesson applies to leaders too. Just when you think the skills and abilities that got you to the top will keep you there, something forces you to change. Successful leaders seek out experiences that keep them humble, and adapt to situations that require change. Successful leaders embrace the sore muscles and bruises of change, in fact they welcome them.  There is risk in change, but there is more risk in not changing.

If you really want to see if you’re an adaptable leader, try “snowboarding.