This leadership journey blog was originally published in 2021 and has been updated with new resources.
Six years ago, I had my first ski lesson and I quickly realized that this winter activity was filled with leadership journey lessons, for both emerging and seasoned leaders. As a novice skier, each time I am on the hill or mountain, there is always something new to learn.
When our family started skiing and snowboarding, I would stand at the base of the mountain, tip my head back to look way up to the peak, and feel myself filled with awe and inspiration. For me, the mountain and ski chairlift has become a visual metaphor for our leadership journey and how we move upwards and forwards in our organizations.
The Conveyor Lift: Starting a New Position
When I first learned how to ski, I was introduced to the conveyor lift. This is a conveyor that takes you up to the top of the beginner hill. You simply move yourself to the front of the conveyor, put one ski slightly ahead of the other, and the conveyor gently takes you up the hill. Because this is where most individuals learn to ski, the slope is flat and gently allows gravity to help move you down the mountain. It reminds me of when we first enter our professional careers and need to learn the basics of our roles and organizations.
If we don’t take the time to learn the basics of a new position, we don’t have clarity about how services are delivered to our stakeholders. We miss big opportunities to start to build a network of support. We miss the chance to get to know others.
In these initial roles, we should expect not to know anything. Our focus should be on curiosity and learning. We want to enter an organization knowing we bring value and have something they need. This can cause us to hide our questions. We don’t want people to know that we don’t know. We come into these roles with a degree or education in a particular area, or we come with some experience from a different organization. But we need to expect there’s a lot we don’t know about this specific organization and its culture. How do they operate? What’s the working style?
Take advantage of what they are offering inside your organization—onboarding process, mentor program, maybe internal learning/development classes, and more. Be proactive about asking for resources, too! For example, you could ask your new manager for someone to be your work buddy to help get you settled. Do you have a go-to person to help prepare for meetings?
There’s no hard timeline for emerging leaders, but we might stay in this position for 3 years or more. Every time we go to a new “mountain,” we should restart on that conveyor lift just to understand our surroundings. Even if we are experienced, we need to give ourselves time to understand What does this mountain look like and how does it feel?
For emerging leaders on the conveyor lift, we recommend Lead to the Max!® Coaching to build a strong foundation. Another helpful tool would be the Everything DiSC® Workplace program to understand yourself and those around you.
The Beginner Lift: Developing in your Role
Next is the beginner lift. Many times, it is a wooden bench with a metal bar that you pull over your head and gives you security. This lift is slower, and I appreciated the pace. It allows me to slow down and just enjoy the beauty in front of me. As the chairlift moves up the mountain, I have the opportunity to look around at the activity below me. This lift takes me to the next level on the mountain. The ski run is longer than the beginner hill and provides an opportunity to build confidence and comfort.
In our careers, we need to take the time to build confidence in our own abilities and leadership skills. Many times, we try to shorten our time in roles that seem to be at a beginner level. Instead, we should be spending more time trying to really understand the role and our responsibilities before moving to the next level. Why not take another ride and spend more time near the beginner lift?
If you leave too early, you may not have a complete view of the importance of the work that you are doing, and how it relates to others. It’s easy to miss the big picture. (Learn more about big-picture “value creation” teams here). We should not only master our job responsibilities, but ask questions like, How can I do this and bring value to everyone around me? How can I make this process even better, even stronger? How can I make this process adapt, depending on what the business needs?
In the beginner lift, give yourself the opportunity to have different experiences—opportunities to connect with different areas and roles of an organization. Doing so allows you to grow your capabilities and your capacity, as well as your emotional intelligence.
For leaders in this stage of their leadership journey, we recommend Speak Up and Be Effective™ for solid communications skills, in addition to Everything DiSC® Agile EQ for tools surrounding emotional intelligence.
The Pro Lift: Flourishing for the Long-term
Finally, the newest and fastest chairlifts take us to a whole new level and new parts of the mountain. There tends to be more individuals around these chairlifts. These chairlifts are a bit more luxurious and have various amenities and security features. These are fast chairlifts, and you move quickly to the top of the mountain.
In our leadership journey, sometimes we find ourselves on the fastest chairlift and in a new role. Suddenly there are many options of how to get up and down the mountain, and new opportunities for our careers. The challenge is finding the best run that fits our skill level. Here is where a coach, or ski instructor, can be helpful. They can ski besides you, providing insights and new tools, to help you be successful. Consider Executive Coaching with monthly one-on-one sessions. Additionally, The Exceptional Leader™—Excel is designed for today’s business leaders with integrated responsibilities of company leadership.
A coach walks alongside you, but you choose your route and how you want to go down it. Your coach will cheer you on as you go, and when you fall they can help you reflect on what happened in that moment. Their role is not to tell you what to do and how to fix it, but to encourage you that you are capable. They ask questions like, How would you like to tackle the next project/role/meeting differently?
In this stage, we should still be seeking new “chair lifts” to take us to higher and bigger mountains. Look for employee resource groups, sponsor or co-chair opportunities, and growth tools even outside of your organization. Become a mentor to someone else. Listen to thought leadership inside and outside of your industry. We don’t always require a title change to grow professionally and enter a new season of leadership.
For leaders at all stages, you must cultivate a growth mindset. If we are in a new role, we have to grow to fill that role. Don’t think you’ve got it all figured out. Embrace humility. Recognize that what the role means today may be different a few years down the road.
The conveyor, beginner, and high-speed lifts take us to a new elevation, a new part of the mountain, or a new leadership role. When it comes to your leadership journey, which chairlift are you riding? We can help you decide what path is right for you. Contact us for guidance on which route is your best fit.
Lead to the Max!®