If you live in the Seattle area, and someone asks you how you like living there, the socially acceptable response is to say that it is miserable because it rains all the time. The reason: it is an amazing place to live with endless cultural experiences and possibilities for outdoor enthusiasts and area residents are not fond of crowds.
My family has lived in Upstate South Carolina, and so far, I am safe to tell you that we absolutely LOVE it – more all the time. One contributing factor is the DuPont State Recreational Forest which is a short drive from our house. DuPont’s 10,473-acres are a mountain biking Mecca with multiple waterfalls that have been the backdrop for several movie scenes. It is a wildly popular destination so, if you ever visit, avoid the visitor’s center parking area and go instead to the Fawn Lake parking area on Reasonover road.
The park has 86 miles of trails which are differentiated similar snow skiing runs. Easy are green circles. Blue squares are intermediate and black diamonds are the most advanced. Saturday, the boys and I made a trip up the mountain for a day of riding.
Here are five leadership thoughts the day’s ride brought to mind.
Leadership is a great adventure. Like mountain biking, leadership has plenty up and downs both of which comes with its own challenges. We never head to DuPont without first checking the bike tire pressure. We fuel the car and fuel ourselves with plenty of food and water. We’ve got our trail map and all the water we can carry. Just because we have experience on the trail, doesn’t mean planning ahead isn’t necessary each time we go. As you prepare for another week of leading, how would an hour of time each Sunday preparing yourself for the week ahead make a difference for you and those your lead?
Once you are on the trail, whether walking or riding, there is a great temptation to look down and miss what is coming next. While you are staring at the ground right in front of you, it is easy to pass by spectacular scenery. Saturday, I realized that focusing on one spot can mean missing a root, fallen tree, large rock or turn in trail, any of which could have sent me over the handlebars. Tunnel vision as a leader can be detrimental too. What is that saying?
“A leader knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”
I am a task-oriented person, as my leadership came to impact more and more people , I realized that putting my nose to the grindstone gave me plenty of blind spots and others suffered when I was only showing people that I could get things accomplished instead of helping them see that they can be good at them too.
Especially when you are fighting gravity, you cannot wait too long to shift gears. Like mountain trails, the conditions and circumstances of our lives and businesses create different phases some by nature take more effort than others. The key for the leader is to know when the team needs to shift gears to keep the forward/uphill progress going. Mostly it is about managing expectations and not wearing people out – yourself included. When you wait until the tension becomes too great, shifting is not only difficult, it can bring everyone to a grinding halt. Sometimes we get in such a hurry to get to the top, we think we can get there if we just work harder. We have to remember we have other tools in the tool box.
This is all about control. Downhills are exhilarating. The payoff of momentum is that everything gets easier. Starting a career, a new job or a business means gravity is not your friend but by persisting a tipping point is eventually reached. I once heard that in a great economy, everyone seems smart. Riding down a mountain road is an adrenaline rush and it can lead you to overestimate your skills as a rider, and if you wait until the bike is at terminal velocity to apply the brakes, you have forfeited control. It’s the equivalent of finally having extra cash on hand and keeping no control of your spending. We have way too many people flying downhill at break-neck speed while amassing tremendous amounts of personal and business debt, just because they can. But it’s not just money. When you have momentum, more people want a piece of you. An over-estimation of your ability on the downhills of life can lead you to overcommit your time. This is where we get caught over promising and under delivering. If we haven’t crashed (emotionally, mentally, physically) already, pretty soon an uphill comes to snap us back to reality. Breaking before things get out of control allows us to enjoy the current downhill and plenty more after it.
Enjoy the Journey
If I did anything well on Saturday, it was staying present in the moment with my boys and giving thanks many times for the beauty I was experiencing. Certain areas of our family life have been as tense and stressful as ever the past few months. In addition to this, I have lately spent time with families who have very small children and those whose children are no longer in the same house. I know this window of time where both boys are in my house and at an age to take adventures like this is fleeting. I intentionally enjoyed the entire day. We had one moment sitting atop a bluff overlooking a waterfall that I will never forget. The vista had just enough space for the three of us to sit together. The pedal up was exhausting, and we were all dripping with sweat. While listening to the falls below we quickly polished off three bottles of water. As we sat there talking a bi-plane flew over. Not just a straight flyover. The pilot must have seen us sitting there because he circled right above us. Pretty cool. This past week, I have been watching a series of speakers talk about servant leadership. It has reminded me that every opportunity we get to serve others is a gift. I want to spend less time cussing gravity and more time enjoying the ride with those around me and let them know I appreciate them.