In a culture that rewards and celebrates speed and rapid growth nearly above all else, there is an element of leadership that can get lost in the blur: stillness.
Don’t get me wrong, leaders need to be quick and agile, to find solutions, and to produce results. The question is...what factors are needed in order for this to happen?
With my sled dogs, as you can imagine, things move very quickly. The dogs are brimming with energy, they can’t wait to run and to pull. It’s as intuitive to them as retrievers retrieving, or herding dogs herding. Sled dogs love to pull. If you have a northern breed dog as a pet, you already know this. A walk around the block is a quick event, with the dog out front, doing what comes naturally—pulling the leash, in this case.
However, in order to get my team to truly pull to their potential, I need to slow things down enough so that I can really know and understand each dog on my team. Sled dogs, like everyone, have unique personalities. Some are driven, some are goofy, some prefer to run beside particular dogs, some are more intense, others not so much.
My job as the leader/musher of my team is to work with each dog, train them, identify their strengths, their natural abilities, what helps them thrive and what doesn’t. This doesn’t happen at light speed, and the more diverse my crew is, the more important this is. It happens by my slowing down enough to pay attention. To spend time one on one with each of my dogs, in addition to observing them on the sled with the team.
If I rush this process and put dogs together on the team without really knowing them, our potential is lost.
This can be challenging, especially under time pressure, and maybe most especially if you just can’t get a handle on some of them. The temptation is to just throw them in the mix and see what happens. We do this with human teams all the time, figuring they’ll sort it out, the ‘stars’ will rise to the top, carrying the team if necessary, and those that aren’t a ‘good fit’ will recognize this and move on.
We all know how this turns out. ‘Stars’ working in a team that isn’t aligned or pulling in the same direction quickly get frustrated, no longer performing to their abilities. Those that are struggling to find their place on a team, well, they struggle. The talents and particular gifts they carry that could potentially elevate the whole team goes unrecognized and unappreciated.
Most teams can excel when there’s great leadership. The commitment on the part of a great leader is to know their team. To see them. Hopefully, all of us have had the experience of being truly seen by someone. Above and beyond knowing our basic facts and demographics, excellent leaders go deeper and help draw out a more complete picture of each team member. And when we feel seen, understood, and appreciated...man will we work hard!
This takes work, attention, and consistency. But in the long run, if your team is truly pulling to their potential, you, as the leader, have the time to step back, to guide, to inspire, and to help your team pull harder and go farther.
What does this look like? Two of the most essential practices you will need as you deepen your connection with individuals on your team is curiosity and what I call Wild presence: the practice of giving your undivided attention.
This means one on one time when you are not just racing to the next meeting. It means time, perhaps moving if your job is mostly sitting, or sitting if you mostly move. It means simply being curious about this person:
*What led them to this line of work?
*What are some of the things they do where time seems to stand still?
*What brings them joy?
*What brings them down?
I call this Wild Leadership. Wild means having the courage to bring the gift of all of who you are to all of what you do. If we, as leaders, show up a little more wild, and draw this out in our teams, that’s the sweet spot. It doesn’t come from moving so fast that no one on the team feels connected. It doesn’t come from the leader not having time for their team. It comes from connection and focus and a shared desire to ‘pull the sled.’
Want a snapshot of Wild leadership? Picture a musher driving their team. The musher is behind the team, not out front dragging the team along. It’s the team’s job to pull. It’s your job to train, guide, encourage, and give the team direction. From behind. Guiding the sled, leaning into the turns, and some of the time, holding still.
Featured on the Discovery Channel's 'National Geographic Today' and recognized with national awards as a speaker, Chris Heeter has followed her own Wild path since she was young. A wilderness guide for 30+ years, Chris Heeter leads groups deep into the wilderness by canoe or dogsled. The abundant parallels between these adventures and the workplace make up the core of her presentations.
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