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Leadership lessons from skiing

leadership mindset Apr 19, 2018

Some days ago, I was skiing for the last time this season (in Tignes/France), in full sun and with a lot of snow. I myself am a passionate skier who "comes down" pretty much every slope – the black steep moguls - with a bit more fight and less elegance.

During one of the descents, an analogy with corporate culture came to my mind: it's just that most skiers master blue slopes (the easy ones) with great safety and routine. With red ones (for advanced skiers), you usually have to concentrate a little, and the black steep mogul slope (for expert skiers) sometimes demands everything from you.

Isn't it the same in companies? They have various people who easily descend the blue slopes day in and day out, while some people take the red one. But the challenge of a black runway comes to few people's minds: it's exhausting, pushes you to your limits, and carries a certain risk with it.

My thesis: most companies have far too many "blue slope drivers" and far too few who regularly tackle the black ones (some even stay on the sun terrace).

The result: little personal growth – instead of perfection, it’s always the same. That's no way to do anything really outstanding.

So how do you get more people on the black slopes as a leader? Three ideas:

  1. Standards. Make the standards clear: It is not enough if you always do the same thing a little better. Anybody can do that. What is needed is “challenging oneself" within one's own limits. Start this discussion with the leadership team.
  2. Training. I bet most people in your organization have never thought deeply about raising the bar and what comes with it; you have to train such ideas on an ongoing basis. By analogy, most "blue slope skiers" have never heard of black slopes at all.
  3. Action. Start by setting more ambitious goals for yourself and your team than before. Instead of 10% growth, you create 20%. Instead of 24 hours response time to customer requests, you make it 3 hours. Instead of one marketing campaign per quarter, you run one per month… and so on.

Well then, we’ll see you and your team on the black run!

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