Have you ever been faced with a challenge where you need to take a leap of faith, however there is this big gap or obstacle in front to you? Do you take the jump or do you look for an alternative path to get to the other side? I remember as a young boy being faced with such a choice. We were enjoying a family picnic in the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne and during the afternoon, as young boys do, my brother and I decided to explore the surroundings. After walking down numerous tracks, we were on our way back when we took a different track and found ourselves in an area with a small stream in front of us.
This stream was probably only about 1 metre wide, but as a child, it appeared much bigger. Looking for alternatives to get over this stream, there didn’t appear to be an obvious alternative, so my brother and I decided that we need to jump. My brother went first and cleared the stream, landing softly on the other side. When it came to my turn, as I took the last step, my foot slipped in the mud on the side of the stream and I landed in the middle of the water, fully clothed. Thankfully, the stream was only about half a metre deep, but nonetheless, I was wet, muddy and mostly embarrassed. As you can imagine, my brother was laughing his head off, knowing that his big brother had ‘failed’. Now at the time, I did not realise the lessons involved in this little escapade, though many years later, they became crystal clear. And it was through working closely with a client who was making the ‘leadership leap’ from individual contributor to team leader, that brought all of the memories (and lessons) back.
This particular client has been performing exceptionally well in their role, overachieving their allocated targets and kpi’s and had been given the opportunity to take over one of the teams in the division because of other promotions. Whilst he was flattered that he had been identified as ‘top talent’, he was also extremely nervous and unsure as to whether he had the ability, the talent and the knowledge to perform well. He was literally standing on one side of the stream, the surface being muddy and slippery and faced with the metre jump. He then asked me what he should do. It was at this point I shared my story and together we discussed and explored the possible lessons from it. Here are some of the areas we covered:
- We are constantly faced with decisions – every single day we have decisions to make, and often the worse decision is not to make a decision (which of course is a decision). When I was faced with the 1 metre jump, I had to make a decision to jump, and when that decision was made, it was definite and I took the leap. Jumping was also the quickest route to the destination, so in my mind the decision was a good one. In leadership, we cannot afford to be indecisive, to procrastinate or sit on the fence. Our team are depending on us to show the way, and the best way to demonstrate that is through decisiveness. My client was now standing on the same side of the stream and he needed to make a decision. How decisive are you when it comes to making decisions?
- Often we must take a leap of faith – once I had decided to jump across the stream, I still needed to actually take the jump and this required faith that I would be able to get to the other side. Whether I did reach the other side or not was actually not the point – I needed to jump. My client had gone through a period of time where he was questioning whether he should jump or not. He was procrastinating and in the process, he was frozen, not moving at all. He needed to understand that nothing is guaranteed, that if he jumped the stream, he too may fall in like I did, or he may clear it, like my brother did. Either way, he would not find out until he jumped. Do you often find yourself procrastinating, resulting in you being frozen and not moving? Take a leap of faith – you may surprise yourself in terms of where you land.
- You will fail – this is a huge leadership lesson, that unfortunately many businesses try to avoid at all costs, and hence create a culture that failure is not acceptable. As many of my mentors have shared with me over the years, & I’ve experienced as well, it is almost impossible to develop, learn, and grow within a comfort zone. Growth and improvement comes through being uncomfortable, through breaking through barriers (often the terror barrier!), and whether we like it or not, there will be times when we ‘fail’. It is inevitable that we will fail. However, we have the ability to fail forward, learn from the ‘failure’ and improve. We really only become a ‘failure’ if we quit. I failed to jump over the stream, and in the process, I learned what didn’t work. I know that if I attempted to jump over it again, I would have had a better opportunity of succeeding. My client was worried about ‘failing’ in the new role and this lead to his procrastination, however, once he understood that failure is part of the process, his confidence levels increased. How do you view failure? Is this holding you back from taking the leadership leap?
- Study the consequences – everything that we say and do has consequences, some of which are positive, and some negative. As a leader, we must always be studying this, as it plays a pivotal role in our ability to make decisions and take action, and can also be quite liberating. As I was standing at the edge of the stream, there were effectively 2 possible outcomes – 1) I would land safely on the other side, or 2) I would land in the stream. Both had consequences, albeit the 2nd outcomes’ consequences were harsher, especially given that mum would not be happy having to wash muddy clothes! And before I took the leap, I had to be comfortable that I could handle the consequences that I had identified and knowing that, I was committed to jumping. My client needed to study the consequences of moving into the leadership role and really analyse them. Having done this exercise, the only question he then had to answer was ‘could he handle the consequences?’. If the answer was ‘yes’, he could take the leap, full steam ahead. Do you study the consequences of your actions and possible actions? Do this, as it will give you greater clarity.
The stream experience has proven to be a really useful metaphor for me throughout my own leadership career, as well as being extremely useful in my leadership coaching. Know that we will constantly be confronted with obstacles and challenges and that sometimes, when we take the leap, we will land in the stream. However, it is important that we continue to take the leadership leap, always learn as we go, because it is only through the challenges and the ‘failures’, that we can grow and develop, and add another dimension to our leadership. Take the leadership leap.
To your continued leadership success.
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Darren specialises in working with Sales Leaders to create, implement & embed a sales leadership game plan that will deliver outstanding and sustainable sales & revenue results. He is also the founder of the Australian Sales Leadership Network, a LinkedIn Group for sales leaders to share insights, strategies, resources and best practices, in order to build high quality, engaged and successful sales teams, delivering profitable and sustainable sales results. To apply to join, please click this link.