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Leadership Lessons from a Ski Trip

I’m writing this piece about 15,000 feet above the amazing scenery of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, on my way back from a short break in Queenstown.

The trip included my first ‘proper’ skiing for about 15 years. Having survived a few runs down the mountain, and after a quick tune-up with a professional ski instructor, it occurred to me that there are many parallels (no ski pun intended) between getting your ski legs back and developing yourself as a leader:

  • I learned from my lesson and observing other skiers that there is no one ‘right’ way to ski.  You have to adapt your style to suit the conditions; and your physical and mental condition. It’s the same for your leadership.  What works for one of your team may not work for another.  You need to understand their personality, behaviour and motivational differences, as well as capability and experience, and tailor your approach accordingly.
  • It’s ok to fall now and again; to pick yourself back up and dust off the snow; work out what you need to do differently and crack on.  If you don’t fall now and again when you’re skiing; you’re probably not challenging yourself to ski that little bit harder in order to move to the next level and to build your confidence.  Developing your leadership also requires you to take some risks; to apply some new thinking; or to delegate a piece of work to someone when you’re not sure if they are quite ready.  If you don’t find a way to do this, you’ll plateau in your leadership as will the people in your team if they aren’t given a harder ‘slope’ to test them. However, just as you wouldn’t jump straight from the beginner slopes to a steep black run on the ski slopes you need to develop your thinking and approach gradually, receiving and giving the appropriate amount of support to encourage you and your team.
  • If you try to ski with a 101 technical instructions going on in your head I guarantee you won’t ski particularly elegantly or fluently.  It will look mechanical and stiff.  The same thing can happen to our leadership if we get too concerned about doing it ‘right’.  Yes there are some tools and techniques that are useful to know and some principles to remember, but armed with these, it’s about trusting yourself;  applying the principles in a way that takes account of who you are as a leader and what feels right.  That way you become more fluid and able to adapt to what’s happening in the moment; trusting your body and mind to take the right decisions at the right time.

My skiing improved over the duration of my trip through practice and some coaching from my instructor.  As a result I enjoyed myself more.  I believe the same can be true of our leadership.  Some regular training or coaching plus application and practice can make us better and more fulfilled leaders.

I’m already looking forward to next winter’s ‘fix’!




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