Preventing Mistakes vs. Pushing your Edge

Photo credit:  Creative Commons License  

Photo credit: Creative Commons License

When I was in my early twenties, I went snow skiing for the first time. You see, I grew up south Texas and believe me, there is no snow anywhere near there! And we think of “cold” as anything below 60 degrees. Here I am in Vermont where cold means 15 degrees!

Anyway, I need to learn to ski so off I go to the bunny class. Here I am in my new ski outfit, feeling a bit like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, I’m so bundled up. I’m not terribly athletic so this whole thing is a stretch for me. However, when the instructor walks in and I see how cute he is, things lighten up a bit. We learn to “snow plow” and a few other basics then off we go to the bunny run.

It’s a pretty gentle slope and by the second time down, I’m feeling pretty good about things. And, this time I make it all the way to the bottom without falling! My bubble burst a little when the instructor says to me “Which matters more to you – learning to ski or keeping your tail off the snow? If you’re not falling down, you’re not going to learn very fast.”

Boy, did that open my eyes! I realized that I was focused on preventing a mistake instead of pushing my edge. I decided that keeping my tail off the snow didn’t matter so much. I fell down more but had more fun and developed my skills more quickly. By lunch time when I joined up with my friends, I was still the slowest but I was learning pretty quickly.

It’s not that my goal was to fall.  My goal was to ski as though falling didn’t matter so that I could learn.

Now I’m also not talking about a break-your-neck kind of fall, but a tumble that maybe bruises your tail (or your ego) a bit. I had to be ok with that in order to really enjoy the run and learn as quickly as possible.

Think about yourself as a leader. Are you actively experimenting and learning or are you focused on preventing mistakes? Are you creating a culture where employees can really push their edge, enjoy the run, and learn quickly? Or do you have a culture where keeping your tail off the snow is more important than learning?