Sometimes a small moment in time can be a catalyst for embedding some powerful lessons. A few summers ago I had an experience, which on reflection, highlighted several important leadership lessons to me and it all happened in the space of 90 seconds.

I was at a swim club with some of my family. One of my grandsons, Andrew, was having a spectacular time riding a slide into the pool. His apparent joy and ease at using the slide inspired me to give it a try.

This slide was different then the slides from my past. It was inflatable with two halves. One half had tiny ladder rungs imbedded into it that you used to climb up and then you crawled across a small platform to the other side and plunged down the slide. To keep the slide slippery there was water continuously being sprayed on it.

I am standing in line with a bunch of kids and when it is my turn, I start up the slide. I am clinging to the TINY rungs of the ladder with the tips of my fingers and toes. I get almost to the top and suddenly I am slipping back down the ladder barreling into a couple of kids who are waiting at the bottom of the inflatable for their turn.

Determined to accomplish this feat, I give it another try and get halfway to the top and slip to the bottom AGAIN! This time I didn’t barrel into any kids because the lifeguard told them to wait their turn off the slide. I am thinking as I slip for the second time that the lifeguard is going to say, “Ma’am, I think maybe you shouldn’t try the slide”. However, he doesn’t really look at me and doesn’t stop me.

As I go to try for the third time, one of the kids, probably 10 years old, says to me, “You should hold on to the straps alongside the ladder.” — and even motions to me what I should do in case I don’t understand him. So, I try again using the straps and get near the top where there is an especially slippery spot. I start to slip but because of my 10-year old sage, I hold on to the straps and don’t fall. I make it to the top, crawl across the short platform and successfully slide down. If you watch the video, you see a small smile of satisfaction cross my face when I emerge from underwater.

In the 90-seconds that it took for all of this to take place, I recognized in retrospect these valuable leadership lessons:

#1. Some planning before executing will support greater success for your actions. Take the time to examine what you are going to do and what help you might need. I didn’t really take a good look at the slide before giving it a try. If I had, I might have noticed the straps to hold onto.

#2. Your actions may have an impact on others. My first attempt with the plunge back down meant I barreled into the kids waiting at the end of the slide for their turn. This was an unintended yet real consequence and called for additional measures before the next attempt. In this case it was the lifeguard telling the kids to wait on the ground rather than at the bottom of the slide.

#3. We often don’t try something because we think the people in authority will stop us or won’t condone our actions. The authority in this situation (the lifeguard) let me try a few more times just by maintaining silence and not asking me to get off the slide.

#4. Listen to the experts even if they are not in a position of authority. My success in finally climbing the slide was due to the advice of the 10-year old sage who told me to hold onto the straps. He has already developed problem solving skills. He identified what I was doing wrong and wasn’t afraid to share his observations with me. How often do we shut down the voices of others that are new to a team or seem to have less experience?

I would love to hear some of your stories about what you learned recently from a common, everyday experience and what impact it had on you. Post your stories in comments.

One last lesson: If you are having someone recording you trying something new, make sure the video is on your phone so that you have control over the distribution.

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Welcome to the Listening to the Leader in You Blog

Super-leaders arm themselves with insight. This blog is where you’ll find concepts, ideas, resources and more for honing your full set of leadership capabilities. 
Lynn Schaber, MCC
For the past 20 years, I’ve been privileged to partner with individuals intent on cracking the code to leadership beyond the ordinary.