On the Trail to Success, You Have to Get Your Feet Wet
By Rick Nelson
I’m a trail runner. I’ve been trail running for over 20 years now. When you log a lot of hours on the trails, whether alone or with friends, you can’t help but stumble into moments of discovery—you know, those lightning-bolt “aha” moments. One such moment struck me in 2012. I had been the CEO at Direct Technology for more than a year, and had identified two major areas I needed to address:
1. How much latitude should I be giving my executives?
2. What is the right level of growth investment while maintaining financial health?
Both of those topics have academic answers. The problem is, there’s an emotional component to any decision, and emotional constraints can handcuff a leader.
Anyway, around the time I was wrestling with these questions, I had a standing Monday night run with three or four other folks. On this particular night, it was absolutely pouring. It’s important to note that we ran on a single-track trail in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas at 10:00….PM! That’s right. Headlamps and moonlight. 11 miles worth. Given the weather, of course I was hoping someone would call and cancel…but those crazies never cancel.
So, we set off from the trailhead, me staring at the muddy ground and gingerly tiptoeing my way toward our destination. My friend Don looked back and called out: “What are you doing?”
“I don’t want to get my feet wet!” I shouted back over the hiss of the rain. “My shoes will get muddy, my socks will get wet, I’ll get a blister. I hate getting my feet wet!”
Squinting through the dim, grainy light of my headlamp, I saw him smirk a little. He threw his arms out as if welcoming the deluge, and said, “When you were six years old, you would have given ANYTHING to run through the rain in the middle of the night. When did you start worrying more about the possible negative outcomes than the incredible opportunity of being here tonight? You’ve got the right gear and the right support—now get your feet wet!”
I spent the run thinking about the other areas in business and life where I had put the possible negative outcomes in front of opportunity for real growth. The first thing that came to mind was how often I told my kids “Don’t” or “Stop” or “No,” when it easily could have been “Yes” or “Let’s do it together!” Then I thought about those two business things that I was struggling with: investment in the business, and truly empowering leaders. And I made two decisions:
1. I would not intervene in an executive’s decision unless it was immoral, unethical, illegal, or creating a threatening work environment (which, fortunately, has never happened).
2. I would invest—to stretch—just past my comfort zone.
The truth is, I was more prepared than I knew; I was dodging raindrops and tentatively dipping my toe in when I should have jumped into the puddle with both feet. After all: there was process in place. There were regular communication rhythms. Most importantly, the leadership team was aligned in our shared values—they were just waiting for the opportunity to show their skills. And once I implemented these two decisions, the results were amazing. Better than a run in the rain.
So this week, find those places where you can relax some of that anticipatory anxiety. Think about the thrill of the opportunity. Know that even if you get dirty, you can clean up good as new. And remember that once you dive in, all that nervousness and hesitation will be completely drowned out.
Go on—get your feet wet!
See you next week, Rick
How do YOU jump in? Please share your stories: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rick Nelson is a Co-Founder of TA Group, Chairman of Launch Consulting, and former CEO of Direct Technology. He and other leaders are sharing their experiences each week for 12 weeks in the Growth Never Stops series.
About the Series
Growth and learning have been at the core of TA Group’s success. Academic learning certainly, but more importantly the kind of learning that comes from trial and error, from bumps and bruises. Otherwise known as experience. We’d like to share that experience with you!
Each week in Q1, we’ll share a high-level topic related to personal or professional growth, leadership or management. We’ll share the stories and the steps that lead to the learning and we’ll ask you to share with us. Let’s grow together in 2018.
Read last week’s post here: Elvis and the Art of Getting Unstuck
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