by Michael Holland    

A foot of snow provided the perfect opportunity to teach my then 16-year-old son how to drive in the snow.  He was several months into his learner’s permit process and, all things considered, was a fairly good driver.

To start off, we found a nice big parking lot.  “Floor it towards that snow bank,” I command.  He grins and gets us moving.  I have him turn hard and give it more gas and we’re there, in the middle of a great slide with a powerful vehicle.  Fishtailing back and forth, he feels the car getting closer and closer to being completely out of control.  His face tells the whole story.  In a moment I see what we came here for: the panic, and the look of fear, of “oh no, I can’t control this car”.

He’s practicing a skill he’ll need somewhere in the future.  It’s a skill that you can’t describe as much as live through; an instinctive feeling that comes from being in similar situations that, when called upon, your instinctive reaction will be what’s needed.  He can now listen to my car-out-of-control stories with a deeper sense of what he would do in similar situations.

As we train young leaders, we emphasize the need to practice their skills so that they will be prepared to act when situations arise.  “Practice like you play” is my mantra, and I repeat the saying as often as possible, maybe to a point of being annoying.  But the meaning is clear: through practice, we learn the skills necessary to be a good manager and create the habits that earn us the right to lead employees.

As a leader, you must decide how you not only can gain the skills for leading well, but also how can you practice in ways to create great habits and be prepared for the unknown.  Looking forward over the next 6 months, pick 2 or 3 leaders who are a season ahead of you and make a point to create opportunities to practice leadership with them.  Lean into their world and role to find behaviors which you’ll need in your next season of leadership.

  • Shadow them in their role
  • Walk through their people strategy, how they seek to build out their teams
  • Have them review their latest 360 feedback survey and action plan
  • Interview them regarding their legacy (or at least their perception of their legacy)
  • Seek stories of their failures and lessons learned

My son knows the feeling of a car sliding in snow.  But he doesn’t yet know how it feels to have a car sliding on a 3-lane highway with other cars around him and a huge ditch off to the right.  He has the basic skills and I hope – no, I pray – that his instincts will kick in, and he will be able to feel his way through the nasty driving situation which is sure to come his way given that we live in a winter wonderland.

Now… what about you? Are you a snowy road type of leader? Will you be prepared for that nasty leadership situation which is sure to come your way?

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you, as a leader, were completely out of control? What did you learn from this? How were your skills and instincts honed by this experience?
  • Take a moment to think: what are your weaknesses? How can you improve on them so that you will be ready for the leadership situation that hits you like a slippery, snowy road hits a new driver?
  • Analyze the phrase, “Practice like you play.” What does that mean to you as a leader?