Leadership as a ________.

For years I have loved snowmobiling. When I was a tot that meant sitting in front of my dad (or with my sister in a sled being towed behind) riding around our field at our house. I would scream with excitement and sing almost continuously while riding. When I got a little older it became one of the few things that I exclusively did with my dad. We did lots of stuff as a family and my sister and I had some traditions of our own and us with my mom but this one was special for just my dad and I. Imagine my delight turned to annoyance when my boyfriend, soon to be husband, was even more excited about snowmobiling than I was (yay!), but asked to come with Dad and I (you gotta be kidding me). It was a big step in the relationship and I nearly said no. (I mean I wasn’t going to deer camp with him what place did he have snowmobiling with my dad and I?!) I did eventually let him come and my mom started riding with us too. It has always been a great way to enjoy nature and see the world from a different perspective. There are times you’ll ride for what seems like hours through winding wooded trails only to come out and cross the same road that you know is only a mile or two from where you started. It is “sitting all day” that I swear is a workout. I am a pretty active person but you put me on a sled for a day and I’ll be sore from my hands, to my arms, to my shoulders and back, down to my legs. There is no way to be “productive” as there is nothing to accomplish except the ride, so my mind has a chance to be free and creative.

Every year I give the boys their first rides of the season.
And I mean every year, before they are walking, they are riding.

That last one is where the inspiration for this post came from. I have played with this idea for years while riding and have always wanted to write a book on the subject though, it would be an extremely niche market. Leadership as a trail ride. I know, I can see the smile and eyeroll you have now. This girl sees leadership in literally everything, you’re not wrong, but go with me.

Choose your riding style. It is rare that when I say style I actually mean style of clothing but this time I do. Some people would prefer to wear 25 layers of grandma’s scarves and tried and true long johns that have been passed down through the generations. These folks may know their outdated but they take pride in their 1988 Polaris jacket and brown coveralls underneath. Other’s want the newest technology with the best in lightweight insulations and jackets that literally have battery packs to not just keep you warm but actually heat you. Some are going strictly for the look. Their jacket coordinates with their helmet which matches their pants. They might even wrap their sled, or buy one with the right colors, to round out the whole ensemble. Others still, myself included, want some basics but would rather have some room to move even if it means getting a little chillier on the trail. All of these styles (like your own personal leadership style) are ways of expressing yourself. You do you but the key is flexibility. You can know what you gravitate toward but understand what the conditions require and flex and change to meet the needs of those conditions.

Know who you’re following. In the instances that I ride with only women I ride in the back to make sure we don’t lose anyone and help if there is any issue on the trail. Otherwise I, always without a doubt, follow my husband or my dad in a ride. I don’t care if it is just the two of us or a group of 12. I want to follow people I know have their heads on straight and I can trust to learn from. I want to drift through the corners where they do, lean as hard as they lean, see if they slide on ice so I can avoid it, and jump the snowbanks when they do. The person you follow is sort of your mentor on the trail, you want to have someone you can learn from. Someone that will inspire you to push your limits just enough to improve your skills without getting dangerous.

I don’t know that I personally would follow this particular driver, but his big brother appears to have all the confidence as he sits on the back.

Appreciate your machine. I started out riding a Polaris Indy 2 up (probably circa 1990 in 2005 I would guess). It was heavy and stable and it was difficult for me to maneuver at a high rate of speed. So, it was great for a beginner who didn’t really need to ride at a high rate of speed. I progressed to a 2000 Skidoo MXZ in 2011 which I was incredibly excited for but it was so squirrely I was all over the trail and rolled it no less than 5 times. I have since moved up in the world a bit but my general sentiment remains the same, respect what you have and it will do all you need it to. I put hundreds of miles on those snowmobiles. It didn’t matter that my sled was “old” or that it didn’t have all the bells and whistles; I just needed to work with what I had. Whether your team is tenured or full of newbys you need to understand and appreciate what you’re working with. Each group and the dynamics within the group will bring their own strengths, challenges, and opportunities. On your own you can only get so far but with a strong and successful team you can really go places and have the time of your life doing it.

Understand the trail conditions. There are rare occasions when you get to a trail and see that the groomer has just gone through. Flat, pristine trail lay ahead of you with nothing but your own skis and track disturbing it. More often though, there are deep grooves from other’s snowmobiles, a little dirt coming up to the roads, heaps in the corners that force you to one side of the trail, or ice that seems to have a total mind of its own. On those perfect trails, you call all the shots and your machine just floats where ever you point it. On anything else you’re basically recommending a direction and have to release control and work with the the conditions you have. The conditions of your organization are no different. Hold too tightly to every detail and work to make your way work regardless of the path ahead, and you’re bound lose control in other ways (I imply that my crashing the MXZ was because it was squirrely, and that was certainly part, but also I hadn’t quite learned this nuance yet.).

It’s a little grainy but this is one of my favorite pictures. The groomer coming down a beautiful trail on a crisp snowy morning.

So this is all applicable, and a little silly. I still feel like I could write this book I have so many more descriptions and analogies to make. It would be a short book, and yes, a little cheesy. My point is that leadership is universal and that running it parallel to examples you already understand can make some of the things that are so simple their missed, resonate better. Let’s take one simple example, I knew coming into a leadership position years ago that I needed to flex my style to meet the people where they were at, but I was coming at it more philosophically rather than tactically. Then I thought about what I wear riding and how my fewest layers possible mentality was uniquely me, I did make changes based on if it was 20 degrees or 10 degrees below. If I know to flex the style when it exclusively impacts me, then obviously I need to flex my leadership style, while still being true to myself, when it impacts the whole team.

So what is your thing? I mean, I’m sure these examples hit home with a couple people but for most, snowmobiling is not their go to hobby. What is yours? Fill in your own blank. How can you reflect on it help you better understand other areas of your life? What nuggets can you pick out that will propel you forward at home, in the workplace, while connecting with your spouse, or anywhere else. You have the knowledge, find it and apply it everywhere you can.

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