A Lesson in Leading Yourself

by Susan Mazza | Posted | Leadership

A Lesson in Leading Yourself

Many years ago, I was taking a ski lesson in a very challenging mogul field. By the time we got midway down the mountain, I have to admit I was getting very tired and a bit discouraged. I was watching people ski past me and it looked like they were floating effortlessly through what, for me, were giant obstacles causing me to face-plant in the snow.

Good advice for both work and play

My instructor could see my frustration building as I once again put my skis back on and dusted the snow out of my goggles. He gave me some advice that has continued to be relevant both in life and business.

He said, “The reason you are struggling is because you won't commit.” You see, when you are afraid you tend to pull back. On skis, the moment you pull back you lose your balance and momentum because without pressure on the front of your skis you lose the ability to control your forward motion.

The same is true when we are facing any daunting challenge. When the excitement of the new challenge wears off and we are facing frustration or even the fear of failure, we tend to pull back. We may look to our circumstances to justify why we are stuck or stopped. We may even find ourselves entertaining all of the valid reasons why we should pull back or even give up. We may face self-doubt or find ourselves engulfed by resignation.

On the mountain that day I was cold, wet and tired. I wanted to quit. Fortunately, quitting wasn't an option as I still had a long way to go. I could defy my instincts and commit or I could struggle and suffer my way to the bottom in defeat. So I took a deep breath and chose the former. I was truly amazed at how much less energy it took once I mustered up the courage to lean in – even as the voice in my head screamed “pull back.” Seemingly in an instant I went from exhausted to exhilarated.

Not surviving but thriving

The lesson for leaders is this: Leading yourself begins with learning to choose thriving over surviving.

The difference between success and failure is whether in those difficult moments you choose to re-commit and drive forward or pull back and take yourself out. The key is to recognize those moments when you are in them so you can actually choose. After all, your instincts will often err on the side of keeping you safe for the sake of survival rather than feed your desire to thrive.

Yet it’s only when you learn to consistently choose thriving over surviving that you will be able to lead others to do the same.

Of course, you may still stumble and fall despite your choice to commit 100%. You may even fail…this time anyway. Yet the choice to recommit in the face of fear somehow makes the sting of failure easierto bear and the taste of triumph that much sweeter because you know you gave everything you had to give.

Applying what you learned

At the end of that seemingly endless run, my ski instructor said this: “If you are not falling, you are not trying. So, great work. Now forget all the falls and remember the moments when everything clicked. All you need to do next time is focus on making those moments last longer.”

Is there somewhere you are pulling back when what you really need to do is re-commit? Share your story in the comments section below!

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