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Slow motion bungee jumping - lead with understanding

What defines a leader? Read one of the thousands of books published on the subject over time and you can surely find what you are looking for and develop a list of traits you most "desire" to see or be. The answer seems to be it depends on: who we are as individuals, what we value, what situation we are currently in, what gaps we may see in ourselves, what needs we have that aren't being met, growth not occurring to the level we hoped, etc. There are some great authors of leadership and books to be read and I encourage you to find one or two...what else do you have to do at the moment. Well, a lot actually.

This isn't an article on what a leader is, rather one on what perhaps a good leader should be finding time for, given from the perspective of a very fallible and frequently failed person who strives to continually learn from mistakes and works to make fewer over time.

As someone fortunate to have spent nearly two decades indirectly or directly working alongside teams as one of the people in "leadership", I think two of the things I heard WAY TOO MUCH and often saw as a) crutch phrases for those lacking depth and b) as a lazy way to assert positional status were: "you are too far in the weeds" and "tell it to me at the 30,000 foot level". Those who used these phrases were, to me, people that rather than being able to understand the entire business environment and changing dynamics and importantly then being able to work with and through all levels of the organization to successfully move forward were more often right place right timers; OR they were fortunate enough and sometimes smart enough to have team members who were able to fill the gaps around their "strategic" minds. Also understand that for some, this response is a function of feeling they just don't have the time to get into the detailed conversations. That is acceptable sometime not all the time.

This led me to an analogy on leadership, particularly for those who feel or are truly time constrained: slow motion bungee jumping. Compare this with typical flybys and fly overs, or worse parachuting into and out of a situation that isn't a situation at all and of course the dreadful all knowing talking head approach. With fly overs from your 30,000 foot view, you can scan the organization, maybe get an improved general perspective, but not really understand and then make plans and take action with a less than complete picture. Recipe for lower success. Please don't misunderstand, flybys and fly overs can provide a beneficial viewpoint and perspective. Seeing a view others can't access - i.e. being visionary and connecting the dots - is extremely helpful. They simply don't make a leader. The act of engaging does and engaging means getting off the plane and onto the land.

So, slow motion bungee jumping, what does it mean? It means a relatively quick trip through your organization by taking an abbreviated yet real deep dive with iterations up and down and at times side to side in order to complete your understanding. It involves temporarily catapulting yourself out of your elevated view to the base of your organization then moving up through the various organizational processes and teams that make up your company, but not to the top. Returning to origin level (those closest to customers, production, etc.) to fill knowledge gaps as needed, moving up a bit slower as you observe more, and doing it again and again until your understanding is more complete and solid. Once done, untether and head back to the platform...a more informed leader.

Effectively, it's an iterative cliff note version of your daily organizational story with the most important details provided by the actors and authors who bring to life the collective company vision. Trust that if you are willing to take the jump and a little time, your teams will make the experience worthwhile and the time well spent. You may just find it invigorating to learn how many good ideas and adaptable team members are in your organization...particularly now.

Consider this as you prepare to bungee:

  • Go with purpose - Put down the Netflix and pick up the map. It's not a show to be watched, it's a purposeful journey to participate in.

  • Take inventory - For many, production is probably down in all aspects of your life and work and, yes, it feels out of our control at the moment. But, now is the time to prepare for what comes next. For example, are you partnerships being leveraged to their fullest? Your teams can help answer this. Paying for insurance? Many commercial lines carriers offer valuable associated services you can leverage to improve your operations...are you tapping into those?

  • Re-assess your communication approaches and transparency. If you're jumping share the ride. Intent listening, informed questioning, true engagement.

Who do you think is going to be better prepared and able to repurpose their talents, resources and operations more quickly...the one who understands the details of what they have and how it can be utilized or the person who sees the horizon, but doesn't realize they have the Mystery Machine not the Batmobile?

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