Recently, while on a family vacation in California, I spent a day four wheeling at the beach and some local sand dunes. It was amazing to see sand as far as I could see in every direction. We spent two hours out on the dunes and didn’t come close to seeing everything. Even in the midst of what looked like a barren landscape, there were signs of life and vitality. Small paw prints littered the drifting sands and far off in the distance was the sound of crashing waves.
That time adventurous, life giving, and loads of fun. I felt rejuvenated and invigorated after that, ready to tackle the rest of the day (thankfully, it was coaching some amazing people and projects). I’ve found that I need that adventure in order to feel at my best.
And as I think back on that situation, I’ve discovered three things about great leadership.
1.) When you’re stuck, you’re stuck. Inevitably, while trying to ascend a steep dune, I would, at times, get stuck. What made it worse? Gunning the engine. The rear wheels would dig in more and I’d get more stuck. What was once a simple fix could quickly become a larger issue. Instead what I needed to do, was hop off the 4×4, move the back end to get better traction, and then hop on. I was then easily able to move and enjoy my ride.
Sometimes in leadership we get stuck. It happens to all of us at one point or another. What we can’t do is keep doing the same things that got us stuck. Instead, we need to step back, gain some perspective, reassess the situation, and try something new. When we’re successfully able to do this, we can get unstuck, gain some new momentum, and learn from the opportunity so it doesn’t happen again.
2.) Don’t give up, try again. Then there were the times where I wouldn’t get stuck, I’d just simply stop. The hill was too steep and the entry direction and speed that I had originally tried it at. What I needed to do then was change my direction and try again. It would have been easy to see the first attempt at as a permanent failure and never tried again. Then I also would have missed out on the fun and opportunity in exploring new paths.
As leaders, we have to realize that we aren’t going to win at everything the first attempt we give it. Obstacles will mount, enthusiasm will wane, momentum will cease. It is how we respond in those moments that demonstrates our ability to lead. When we see the summit and know where we want to go, it is our ability to keep exploring and trying new paths that people will remember and be influenced by.
3.) Bumps, dips, and drop-offs are part of the fun. That trip wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if we would have stayed on flat ground. You can only go so far before the repetition becomes boring. The thrill was in the exploration, the bumps, the unexpected drop-offs and the (occasional) accidents.
The joy of leadership can be found in the same unexpected twists and turns. People, life, organizations, businesses, and relationships can be bumpy and come with unexpected opportunities and challenges. By enjoying these twists and turns we can shape other people better and influence future direction and decisions. How we learn to respond in the unexpected moments of life demonstrates our true character and ability to lead.
Our two hour time limit came and went by quickly. I was disappointed that I couldn’t go out more, but energized by what I had just experienced. I’m also extremely thankful that leadership opportunities are everywhere if we’re willing to look. I’ve even learned to appreciate the bumps along the way.