The first time I went snow skiing was at Mountain High in 1989. I was 17. I went with my best friend, his two brothers, and their dad. All the boys learned how to ski at a very young age. It was second nature to them.
I clicked into my skis and followed the boys onto the chair lift. We continued going higher and higher until we reached the top of the mountain. My best friend kept telling me I’d be fine. Skiing is easy, just follow him and do what he does.
I made it off the lift…barely and lined up to make my way down the mountain. My friends took off, and I followed. I did okay for the first few seconds. But as the terrain steepened, I dug my edges in, and I froze, unable to turn my skis the other direction and make my way down. My friend did pause and attempt to help me. “Just plant your pole and turn!” I remember him telling me.
My friend couldn’t understand why I couldn’t turn my skis. It just came naturally to him. He forgot how difficult it was when first starting out at such a young age. Fortunately for me, his dad had come up behind us on the chair lift and headed in my direction to help.
Jim first learned to ski in his late 20s. In 1989 and well into his 50s, he had not forgotten how difficult it was when first starting out. He worked with me patiently until I could get down to a more manageable path on the mountain. He spent an hour teaching me the basics. Then he let me go on my own and would check in every now and then and give me advice like, “Keep your knees bent, plant your pole, lean back a bit, you’ll do fine.”
This past weekend, I read this quote, and it reminded me of that day 32 years ago when Jim taught me to ski:
We could all stand to remember how hard it is for others to master what we now find second nature and take for granted. All leaders are teachers, and good teachers must possess the empathy to understand the difficulties of learning the basics. It’s a lesson one should never outgrow or forget.Admired Leadership
Remember this the next time you sit down to teach your team something new. Be patient and understanding. Try to remember back when you first learned how to do it. Break tasks down into simple steps. Focus on the basics and leave out the finer details until they are ready for more. Remember the Jim in your life and aspire to be that kind of teacher.