I had the opportunity recently to go up to Sundance, a local ski resort, to go mountain biking with my team. This is the type of mountain biking where you ride up a ski lift and bike down one of many trails to the bottom, load up and do it again. The mountains are absolutely beautiful this time of year and the weather could not have been better.
The great thing about activities like mountain biking is they give you a chance to get away and help you put life into perspective. Many of the things we do for recreation provide apt lessons for other things we do in life. During my experience on the mountain I thought of a few leadership analogies:
Don’t ride alone: I was a slow getting ready and ended up taking my first ride down the mountain alone. The ride up seemed long (and boring) and I wasn’t sure which trail would be the best to go down (my buddies, who know the area much better than I, were far ahead). Success comes when you work together with your team members. Those who try to do things alone and get all the credit end up doing lower quality work. Effective leaders know their team members and guide them to work effectively together.
Learn from the falls: During my Sundance excursion I had two spectacular falls. The first one I saw coming, but still ended up on the ground with scraped hands and knees. The second fall caught me completely off guard. My front wheel hit a rock and I flew over the handlebars face down on the ground. Both times I got up, shook off the dust and kept going. I realized the mistakes I’d made (each different) and was careful not to do the same thing again. All leaders make mistakes. Successful leaders get back up and move forward. They don’t feel sorry for themselves and they don’t make the same mistake again.
Enjoy the ride: When you’re biking down a mountain it can get intense with all the turns and rocks and potential hazards. It’s easy to tense up and focus too much on what could go wrong, and miss the beauty of entire experience. After my first trip down the mountain I realized I needed to relax. I met up with my friends and we rode together. It made the day much better. Sometimes in work situations we get far too caught up in the day-to-day grind and end up missing the “beauty” around us. Leaders find ways to get their teams excited about their work. They know that committed individuals work more effectively and are much happier. Leaders find ways to make work more fulfilling for their teams.
The Product Management Perspective: One of the biggest fears of many product managers I know is that their product will not be successful. Too often they react by closing off (i.e. keeping it inside) and not sharing their concerns with others. This behavior never works in the end. Bad ideas and bad products will be exposed. My advice is to be open with your team, acknowledge potential problems early, learn from your mistakes, and keep moving forward. Product management can be a thrilling job…enjoy the ride!