The Day I Jumped

In 2008 I was in Lima Peru with my brother Robert. We had met there to continue on to Cusco and eventually hike the famous ruins at Macchu Pichu. While in Lima, we made our way to the coastal suburb of Miraflores. We spent significant time seeing the sights and walking the famous cliff-side Larcomar shopping district that overlooks the historic La Rosa Náutica restaurant on the pier hundreds of feet below. Anyone familiar with the area knows that to the north is the beautiful Parque de Amor (Lover’s Park) and just beyond that lies one of the most spectacular views in all of Miraflores, the cliff-side park at Parapente. Standing there, in awe of the view, I had no idea that two years later I would find myself leaping from the two hundred foot high cliff on the southwestern edge of the park.

Like all cliff-side parks, this spot offers spectacular views of the ocean, the island in the distance, surfers that look like little bubbles on the water two hundred feet below, and the sky. Oh, the sky! The view of the sky here is amazing. There on the cliffs of Parapente you understand how small and how fragile you really are. In fact, the sky that you see from that place is unlike any sky you will ever see in your lifetime; It is riddled with paragliders. You see, the winds that rise from the two hundred foot cliffs can raise a paraglider to over one thousand feet without effort, making this one of the foremost paragliding spots on earth. It was amazing to watch the ease with which these daring men and women became a strange subclass of Aves. The wind would pick up these birds, and in what seemed a choreographed dance of wonder wove them, in and out, over and under one another in a ballet of spectacular color. It is a wonder to behold.

As leaders, we must remember that when we have the necessary skills to lead, from the outside our leadership can look choreographed and beautiful. Like the paraglider finding the balance in the wind, his own presence in the mix of others, and the sheer magnitude of the environment our leadership can be organized and beautiful. However, like the paraglider, if any one element fails, the ballet becomes a tragedy. Loss of wind, loss of any one other glider’s sense of presence and location, these things can change the makeup of the environment to be hostile or even deadly. Standing on that cliff, that beautiful ballet of color reminded me of how an astute leader has the ability to balance all the elements found in his or her organization and create a thing of beauty.

Fast-forward two years…

There I was, on that same cliff at Parapente, nervous yet excited as I waited for the wind to pick up so that I could paraglide for the first time. I had been here the day before, waiting. No wind, no ride. This was my last opportunity, I was leaving for home tomorrow. The wind, though the wait was excruciating, eventually cooperated.

I stood there after having paid my $35 and thought, “What on earth did I just do?” The apprehension grew a bit as they placed a helmet on my head and I told the pilot my weight. He gasped as he calculated the conversion to kilos in his head and I saw his countenance change… Not reassuring! I guess the wind was not strong enough for a 225lb., 6’-4” gringo. He hemmed, he hawed, he looked down at the $35 in his pocket and said, “Well, we can try!” … “Wait a minute… WHAT!” Clearly, he was not going to give back my $35 so that left only one option… Pray and GO!

So there I stood, fifty yards from the cliff with my pilot strapping me into a harness that is attached to the biggest kite one has ever seen. I remember looking at the cliff fifty yards in front of me, and thinking one solitary thought, “Like this helmet is going to help!” Then, he tapped me on the shoulder and yelled, “Run!” Hesitant, yet obedient, I ran toward the two hundred foot cliff hoping that the drag I was feeling was the fully inflated glider behind me. There was no way to know.

Gasp!

This was one of the few times in my life that a non-spiritual experience brought the diametrically opposed feelings of dread and tranquility and slammed them together in an instant. Running off that cliff, and the tightening of my harness signaled the beginning of forty-five minutes of elation, beauty, and indescribable wonderment. During that forty-five minute journey we ascended to over five hundred feet, smoothly traversed every manmade obstacle, mountain and valley within miles and above it all, the view was spectacular. There was not a hint of pre-Parapente fear. Once the final step was taken, the ride was bliss (the landing, however, was a bit less graceful).

Looking back at that experience I realize how many things could have gone wrong and I would not have known what to do. I was privileged to participate in a grand adventure that was only made possible by a highly skilled and trained pilot. As a leader, you must remember that at times your people will experience the fear of the unknown as they try to go with you on your journey. They must learn to trust your expertise and experience. As you sharpen your skill set and grow as a leader, you will instill trust in your abilities and provide excitement for the adventure. However, the trust of your people is paramount.

Had I not trusted my pilot that day I would have feared for the entire forty-five minutes of my flight. But because I trusted both his judgment and his skill set, I experienced a life changing, smooth flying adventure.

It is not appropriate, as leaders, to throw our people a helmet and strap them to our vision or action, without first earning their trust in our ability to lead. Should we attempt to do so, they will sit when we yell, “Run!”

Afterthought:

Was there risk even though the pilot was skilled and trained? Absolutely. That is the way of leadership and that was the reason for the helmet. Not every decision is going to play out the way you anticipate that it will. Some—by luck—will gain altitude, but many of them will plummet. This fact is the reason why it is so important to constantly refine your leadership qualities. Either train and train hard or get off of the cliff!

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Lessons from Hawaii

I was once again asked to write a short piece for Star News, a publication for law enforcement. This article will be published August 2011.

Life has a funny way of touching you at the strangest moments. If you miss those moments they will be lost forever, but if you find a moment of clarity within them they may just provide you with a moment of growth. I am writing this about three hours after one of those moments. You see, I have an absolute passion for Scuba Diving. There are very few things I have a passion for: Family, Faith, my Career, and Scuba Diving… That about sums it up!

Today’s experience brought several of my passions together in a single moment of clarity. I was diving with my son off the shore of Kona Hawaii and we were about to enter an underwater lava tube. Overhead diving is the most dangerous type of diving and it was quite a thrill as father and son entered into the unknown together. Apprehension, sure. Concern, you bet. Excitement, more than you know. Here is what I learned.

Whether it is Diving, Career, or Family, each of these can be improved by the lessons of this day.

First lesson, never enter times of apprehension or danger alone, you need the covering of those who care for you and your safety. The first rule of diving is always have a buddy. My son had my back and I had his. We watched each other and it put us at ease in an otherwise hostile and dangerous environment.

Second lesson, trust your training and the training of those you surround yourself with. Training is paramount. My son is well trained and should something have gone bad deep under the waves he would have shifted in a heartbeat from enjoying time with dad to getting dad safely to the surface. I trust him for that and he trusts me.

Third lesson, use your equipment. You see, in diving, maintaining and training with equipment is first priority. Quality equipment can make the difference between life and death and redundancy is part of the program. Two divers, two regulators each, two lights apiece, etc. You don’t want to be fifty feet into a pitch black lava tube, sixty feet beneath the waves, and have your light fail!

Forth lesson, it’s all equally important and it is the combination of all of it that brings you home. Companionship, trust of others, trust of training and trust of equipment. Whether life or career, each item means security for life. Could I have dove the lava tubes of Kona alone, sure. Perhaps for a lifetime without incident. But what if… Breaking the rules will eventually destroy you and those who love you.

Final lesson, for me, my final passion brings it all together. Faith makes it all worthwhile. Faith brings me the trust of others and the companionship that the human spirit longs for. It gives me the ability to trust and be trusted. It is my equipment for life, helping me with the times of apprehension, fear, and doubt. I approach those difficult moments in life, career and family in the same way I faced the entrance of that lava tube today, with a prayer!

Overcoming Obstacles

Vince Lombardi is famous for saying: “Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”

Take a look at the picture above. These guys are training to be heroes. This reminds me of my need to be a problem solver. Most success is directly related to the leader’s ability to problem solve. In the case of these soldiers, their ability to take a bit of a hit for each other, or experience pain for the team is what leads to their excellence. Make no mistake–as you lead–you will take the hits, you will experience pain. Mitigating the severity is a key to great leadership.

If the obstacle confronts you, the leader…

Sheer determination is key. It sets the relevant leader apart. It’s what makes the difference. At times the solution is found in the “grit.” You just need to hunker down and get over the wall, plow the field, or do the task. However, if the obstacles involve people (which they usually do) the strategy changes. To overcome you will need to devise strategies to minimize the resistance. Effective strategies that minimize resistance will mean the difference between making headway and bouncing back.

If the obstacle confronts the team…

Pulling a group of diverse individuals is hard enough. To do so for the overcoming of an obstacle is all the more difficult. However, it must be done. You need to tap the creative thinking that a team can provide. Your leadership will be shown in steering the solution, implementing the correct approach, assigning the action items and rewarding the team members that make it happen.

Here are some tactics that may help you motivate and direct the team response.

1. Share as much information as possible. People do not work well in the dark.

2. Work with the willing. Even with an “A” team assembled, not everyone on the team will be the star player at any given time.

3. Provide the right amount of guidance. People who are more capable than you will still look to you for your leadership.

4. Work side by side when necessary. In the noise of confusion, your presence in the midst of doubt will do more to help clarify thoughts than anything else.

5. Stretch your people beyond their current talents and abilities. You will be amazed at how effectively they will work when they see growth in their own thinking and abilities.

6. Make it fun, actionable, and highly visible. Most of us–growing up–enjoyed a puzzle or a challenge. Reframe the solution as a challenge that will be fun to discover. Bring a picture similar to the one above to the meeting.

7. Let them feel the weight of the challenge. Fun is… well, fun. It can help us to motivate. However, at the end of the day, the task is serious. Let them see what rests on a favorable solution.

8. Reward them. When the wall has been scaled, get them together, and do something special. Recognize the one(s) who drove the solution. Our drivers are our most important assets. Empower them for the next time around.