by Michael Holland    

The other day I was moving my daughter out of a temporary apartment.  The temperature hovered somewhere between 1 degree and minus 4 degrees: either way it was too damn cold.  And then there was the wind that drove that temperature even further down below zero.  I stood next to the trailer, attempting to tie a rope around the furniture, and quickly went from being cold to really, really, really cold.

Perceiving cold from the warmth of a comfy couch beside a fireplace with CNN on in the background allows for some empathy regarding how it must feel for someone working outside.  Walking quickly from a warm house to a running, warmed-up car gives us a bit more of the experience.  But working outside in deep cold- even for 15 minutes- gives a much deeper understanding of the cold.

Leadership, much like the polar vortex, is better understood through experience.  A leader can learn a heck of a lot from books, other leaders, great training, and partial experiences.  But there’s nothing more valuable than real life, character-building, boots-on-the-ground leadership experience that creates wisdom and perspective.  There’s an authenticity which comes from living through great difficulties and failures and successes.  A real perspective.

We stand on the shoulders of those leaders who have come before us.  We have access to a tremendous wealth of historical leadership information.  But I wonder what you are doing to add to this wealth of the information and experience?  Are you merely meandering through each week, leading at an acceptable level, not rocking the boat and not causing any trouble?

Get off that comfy couch and experience real leadership!  Feel that freezing cold wind on your face for longer than you should.  Wake up your senses to real life experiences and real life leadership.  Get out there with your employees and feel their pain.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • What kinds of leadership experiences would you say correspond to the three ways of perceiving cold illustrated in the second paragraph of this Leadership Learning Moment? What might an example of an “on the couch, by the fire” understanding of leadership be? What about a leadership experience equivalent to running from warm house to warm car? Or “working in the cold” leadership?
  • Have you ever had a “working in the cold” experience that changed your perspective on leadership, or even the way you lead? If so, what was it?
  • What specific actions can you take to follow the advice in the last paragraph? Make a list of several things and, over the next couple weeks, try them out.