A Leading Perspective

Pragmatic insights for the leader in you

Not Just Another Walk in the Park

Who would have thought there would be a jackass in the middle of an Alaskan Forest?

Have you ever had one of those days when things don’t go as planned and, because of your bullheaded decisions, they just get worse?

This happened to me recently when I went for a “walk” in Chugach State Park with a friend and, because I wasn’t paying attention when we were down by a river and came to a fork in the trail system, I led us down the wrong option of the three options for trails. When the trail I took us on ended about 1.25 miles after the fork, we should have backtracked.

But I was stubborn; I decided it would be easier and quicker if we just cut through the forest and meet up with the trail we should have been on.

thick forestPlease note, I live in Alaska so “forest” is a term you need to fully understand. It means back woods. It means no path. It means tons of trees including birch, alder and a variety of spruce. It means tons of trees fallen, covered with moss and/or rotten.

devils club

It means knee high berry bushes covering the ground. It means devils club that can be higher than you are tall. It means thickets of cow parsnip. It means ravines with streams at the bottom and cliffs/bluffs that just appear and make you turn around and go back. And, of course, it means bears, moose and wolves.

Admitting you don't know something goes a long way. #openminded #yourenotperfect via @aleadingsolution Click To Tweet

Now, my plan would have worked had I been paying attention and realized where I was. But I hadn’t been paying attention and I was too proud to admit it. I was also too proud to admit I was “a bit” turned around. (“A Bit” means I didn’t realize the trail I took us on had taken us directly west, not north. Therefore, my great idea of heading east to catch up with the other trail actually took us north.)

When over an hour passed and we didn’t catch up with the correct trail, I realized it was impossible to backtrack to the original trail because of another stupid decision I had made. I thought it would be “easier” if we zig zagged around patches of devils club. The result? We were lost and now didn’t have a good sense of direction because we were so deep in the woods that we couldn’t see the mountain ranges that surround this particular area.

About four hours into being lost, I was tired, bruised, scraped, wet and scared. Thankfully, my friend took over with the decision making with a plan to follow the water downstream; little creeks would lead to streams, which would lead to rivers, etc. While we knew this may not lead us back to my car, it would eventually lead us to the ocean, which was a helluva lot better than staying in the woods.

(I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of the trip; we obviously made it out of the woods, a little more than six hours after we headed in. But know this, I was anxious and scared, and I was mad!)

I was mad at myself for not thinking, mad at myself for screwing up the day, mad at myself for not admitting what I didn’t know, and mad at myself for being so damn lazy that I didn’t turn around and backtrack on a proven trail when I had the chance to do so.

This, dear reader, is really the point of this silly post.

It’s about admission.

Why is it that we are so afraid to admit when we are wrong?

Why is it that we are so hellbent on showing others we know everything?

Why is it that we refuse to show weakness or vulnerability?

Why is that we must be right in order to feel we're good? via @aleadingsolution Click To Tweet

As leaders, we need to realize when a plan isn’t going “as planned” and cut our losses. We need to be willing to try something different. We need to ask our team or colleagues for another idea and give it a whirl. We need to talk about what went wrong and what went right so we can be more efficient next time.

As leaders, we need to be comfortable with saying “I don’t know.” We need to admit to our teams that we need time to process the information. We need to discipline ourselves to logically think things out. We need to gather information and insights from those we work with to make sure we have considered all of the possibilities! (By doing so, we also get the indirect benefit of showing our staff that we have something to learn as well!)YU NO

As leaders, we need to be comfortable with not being perfect. We are human, for goodness sake!

There are times when it is wise to “fake it till ya make it” or otherwise demonstrate confidence. However, we have to accept that there are also times when it is better for the team and better for the organization if we admit we are worried about something.

If we had been good leaders prior to these admissions, we will not “erode” the effectiveness we have but instead, we will build upon it!

When we admit we are wrong, when we concede we don’t know something, and when we divulge that we aren’t perfect, we are helping our teams relate to us. We are empowering them to be human and “less than perfect” and moreover, we are strengthening our relationship with them because hell, we are actually being authentic!

Have no doubt about it, I got lost in the woods because I wasn’t being authentic. I wasted valuable time because I was too stubborn to do the right thing. I put myself and my friend in danger because I wasn’t being honest with my inabilities and lack of knowledge. Thankfully, I did demonstrate some vulnerability, which caused my friend to step up and take charge, which helped us get out safely.

Who knows what would have happened otherwise.

Who knows what could happen with you and your team? 

CommunicationsEmployee RelationsFearGood FaithHuman ResourcesLeadershipTeamworkTrustVulnerability

Heather Kinzie • July 16, 2015


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