My family likes to go skiing with me for the same reason people go to NASCAR races: they like to see spectacular crashes. I try not to disappoint them so I frequently have what is termed, “double-eject yard sales,” which means I’ve crashed so hard my skis go down the mountain without me and my clothing is strewn about the mountain like a cheap yard sale. I’m feared the most when I get off the ski lift since I usually wipe out all the skiers who get off the lift with me plus bowling ball a few innocent bystanders along the way.
Over spring break, we took new skiers in the family to one of our favorite spots and, after a morning in ski school and on the bunny trail, took them to the top of the mountain. We chose a green trail for ease but we soon discovered we would have done better with ice skates than skis. Warmer temperatures had turned most of the mountain into a sheet of ice. It was a long and miserable trip down for those just learning. Not even pigeon-toed, knock-kneed snowplowing could keep them under control.
At one spot along the trail, we all paused to calm shaky legs and check to see if all body parts were in tact, then I instructed our youngest son, Alexander, to lead us down the mountain. He is a high school athlete and slices-and-dices down the mountain with great ease so he pushed off on a trail through the trees.
No one followed.
Skiing on an ice-covered trail through the trees is like strapping a jet blaster to your backside and igniting it. You can go from zero to sixty in about twenty seconds because you have no way of slowing down. It’s only fun if you know what you’re doing.
Here’s what I learned about leadership;
- You have to understand the limitations of those who follow you
- Only three of the seven had the skill set to make it through the trees
- People who had the skill stayed behind to protect those who didn’t
- There was a natural desire to protect the slowest in the group
- As a group, you can only go as fast as the slowest person
- You are only as strong as your weakest link
- Taking newbies to unfamiliar places is a lot of extra work
- Helping the inexperienced was exhausting
While he didn’t intend to, our son taught me a good lesson; good leaders understand and adjust to the limitations of those who follow them. Or people simply won’t follow them.