by Michael Holland    

Each summer our neighborhood in upstate NY comes together for the Rick Braiman Memorial Lawn Mower Race.  A race course is designed new each year to weave among several homes and around obstacles, requiring racers to negotiate chaos-inducing spots.  Our recent race included two laps with two drivers, creating a “difficult” change of drivers event.

The race provides us with an opportunity to come together as a broad family, bonding over pre- and post-race stories and remembering our friend and neighbor Rick. He passed away in 2003 from pancreatic cancer, and the culture of our neighborhood was forever changed by Rick’s passing.  It left a scar that is always present, despite the healing work of time.

Five lessons I’ve learned from lawn mower racing:

  1. While racing a lawn mower is something of an oxymoron given the speed we actually travel , we can feel like we are flying around the course if we set our expectations appropriately.  How might your employees – or you – feel with well-established expectations?
  2. A race reveals a winner only when they are surrounded by their competition.  If you win and you’re all alone, have you really won anything?  Your team’s success comes on the shoulders of teams who have come before you.
  3. Traditional events, while often goofy, have tremendous meaning.  The kids in our neighborhood who have grown up watching the race each year actually see more than just the event itself: they see a life lived together as a broad family.  What traditions have you created, enabled or supported with your team or company?
  4. Folding in new neighbors to our historic race creates an opportunity to feed them with the rich history of our neighborhood culture… but we must first invite them to the race.  As new employees come to your team, make sure to invite them into the culture and whatever goofy events make your team who they are.
  5. Honoring the memory of a lost friend helps to heal the scar that will always be present, and helps us to keep perspective on the fragility of our relationships and life.  Make sure to honor well those who reveal the essence of your culture with clear delineation from those who don’t.

Leading well requires us to see the forest for the trees, to take the time and invest the energy to make the right things happen.  Are you investing well?

Coaching Thoughts- For You and Your Peers

  • Think about some of the traditions you have (whether they are with family, friends, or peers at work). Pick one and make your own list: “Top Five Things I’ve Learned from Our _________ Tradition”.
    • How can you apply these life lessons to other areas of your life?
    • Try to think of several actionable steps you could take.
  • Lesson #5 in this Leadership Learning Moment says to “honor well those who reveal the essence of your culture, with clear delineation from those who don’t”? Why do you think this is so important to leadership?
  • Take a moment to think about your team’s strengths and identify the weaknesses. Could starting a goofy tradition of your own help your team to improve in this area?