Where are the White Spaces?
At the tender age of 9, I fell in love. And unlike other things of youth, it’s a love that’s endured. To this day, I remain in love with downhill (alpine) skiing. Recently, I had the pleasure of skiing with my family – sharing my love of the sport, being on a mountain, and navigating the trails over flats, moguls, icy spots, and tufts of powder. As we rode the lift, my son scouted below to find the perfect glade area to pursue. He wanted the challenge of skiing the glades (or glading), yet wasn’t completely sure about the best way to navigate them.
For the non-skiers among you, glading is alpine skiing off the cleared trails of the ski area through an expanse of (snow-covered) trees. The skier winds around the trees, often enjoying patches of solitude and ungroomed powder as they travel down the mountain. Glade trails are usually quite challenging, with numerous unmarked or unseen hazards and little room to maneuver between the trees. In my experience, glades are among the most beautiful trails on the mountain.
My son’s query – How do I ski the glades? – is not unlike a question we face regularly as leaders.
How do I navigate that situation, challenge, objective, or relationship effectively?
Look for the white spaces.
When glading, many skiers focus on the trees. Avoiding them is rather important. Plus, they’re everywhere; the whole point is to ski within the forest. Skiers are taught to look ahead and down the mountain because where the eyes go, so do the skis. Focusing on the white spaces – where there is snow and fewer hazards at the surface – gives you more time to anticipate and direct your skis away from the trees. For leaders, the white spaces are the parts you can see more clearly, the pieces you can connect or pursue systematically to define your path forward.
As leaders, we often get caught up in the ‘do’, the myriad actions or tasks surrounding us as we push forward to perform better. In fact, there are two research-based competencies related to this: Drive for Results and Action Oriented*. Amid a sea of trees and unmarked hazards, however, more speed and more action are not always the best answers. In fact, the more dense the forest, the lower your speed should be. Above all, success in the glades means you’ve arrived alive.
Consider adjusting your leadership to slow the pace or choose only the critical few actions that are most impactful.
That will both help you navigate better and increase the likelihood that you’ll sustain the results.
Enjoy the journey.
In glading, success is more easily won by constantly seeking and turning toward the open areas – the white spaces between the trees. Doing so, also allows you to see the beauty of what surrounds you and experience the exhilaration of effectively navigating difficult terrain. Not a bad way to lead, either.
©2020 Tara J Rethore. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.
*For the complete list of the 67 competencies developed by Mike Lombardo and Bob Eichinger, click here.