I was lucky enough to go skiing this weekend with my family. We braved the cold – the extreme cold. Let’s just say that there aren’t long lift lines when it’s -2 degrees at the base of the mountain, before wind-chill. With up to 40 mph winds.

Bundled up beyond belief – you couldn’t see an inch of skin on our faces and we wore four to five layers, top and bottom – we had a delightful day. Reflecting on our weekend on the ride home, I discovered a few leadership lessons in our family adventure:

  • Do it anyway – When we first heard the weather, we decided to abort skiing. We lazed about our morning with every intention to cut our weekend short and drive home; but as the hour of departure approached, my son changed his mind. “Let’s go,” he said. And we did. We just did it. It seemed crazy and daunting, and granted my son only changed his mind because he didn’t want to sit in the car all day on the way home, but we did it anyway. There are times when your leadership choice may seem a bit insane, or you’re really not sure what’s the best option. There are times when the path in front of you seems to make no sense. And there are times when you need to “just do it” anyway.
  • Be present – What I love about skiing is how present and aware of the moment it keeps me. There’s so much we miss in our day-to-day and moment-to-moment lives. There’s so much around us that we never notice. But if you don’t notice where you are and what’s happening around (and in) you when you’re skiing, you’re more likely to wipeout. And if you don’t notice the beauty around you (especially in extreme negative temperatures, when the slopes are all but empty), you’re missing such a gift that’s easily yours for the taking.
  • Take risks – I’m a cautious skier. I don’t like going fast and I don’t like being out of control. And that’s okay. But as we’ve skied as a family over the years, I’ve pushed myself to be a bit less cautious and to take more risks. I go a bit faster down the slopes. I agreed to try a double-black-diamond mogul run (and made it down intact and proud). I plunge into the glades with my son, following the less-worn paths and usually ending up with more than one face plant or close encounter with a tree. But the risks are okay and they’ve definitely made my skiing more fun – more engaging and exciting.
  • Make sure they’re reasonable risks – I’m still not that great a skier, and I still need to be careful. Even if I don’t need to be as careful as I’ve always been. It’s important to do our best to make sure our leadership risks are at least somewhat calculated, that we’re not putting ourselves, others, or our organization in danger. As a leader it’s our responsibility to care for the people – and the results – around us.
  • Take care of yourself – We bought new face masks before we headed out to ski. We made sure every part of our body was covered. We used hand and toe warmers, and still made sure to hit the lodge more often than usual. I knew my skiing limits and how far I could push them (did I mention how proud I am of my double-black-diamond mogul run?). It’s essential to take care of yourself, so that you have something to give those you lead (whether you lead a team, an organization, or a family). “Put your own oxygen mask on first,” as they say. Make sure you’re at your best so that you can give to, and lead, others.

I suppose there are leadership lessons everywhere, even on a mountain in sub-zero weather. And when we approach leadership, and life, like we approach a great day of skiing, we can potentially have more fun and accomplish our leadership goals.

What have you learned about leadership from skiing, and life?
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