I usually write columns about business topics that help entrepreneurs make good business decisions.
Sometimes, however, the most important lessons come from non-business situations.
One of the most vivid memories I have of a terrible experience involved what should have been a pleasant outing. I was 18 years old, and my cousins, who lived in Denver, decided to take me skiing. This was a first for me, but we rented all of the necessary equipment and were, seemingly, ready to go. Of course, I didn’t have the right kind of clothes, so I wore blue jeans, but I did have a hat and gloves and the rented skis. We got to the ski mountain – some of the best in the world are in Colorado – and since it was a weekday, it wasn’t terribly busy. After we put our clothes on in the locker room and put on our skis, I slid out, with a cousin on each side of me, to the line for the ski lift that would take us up the mountain.
As I’m sliding forward, a cousin on each side, I ask them what was going to happen next? They told me to relax, and they’d coach me along. I managed to position myself so that the ski lift could scoop me up and take me to the top of the hill. I have to say that when I was sitting in the chair, I felt like I was the king of the world looking down on a beautiful mountain covered in white snow.
I was having the time of my life.
And then it occurred to me to ask the next most important question: what was going to happen once we got to the top of the hill?
My cousins assured me that getting off the lift would be easy.
“You tip your skis up and just let the chair lift do all the work,” they said.
So I tipped my ski tips up and the chair pushed me off onto the snow and onto my face – which is more or less where I spent the next three hours.
My cousins had taken me up a medium hill, but, as I said, I had never been on skis before. I’m not the most athletic person, and I don’t catch on that quick, so it was a miserable day for me and a miserable day for them. And remember – I was wearing blue jeans, which were soaked through after the first fall. I was freezing, and I was upset. Sure enough, my interest in skiing took a nose dive after that experience.
I learned an important lesson that day, even if I didn’t appreciate it at the time: Never push someone too far before they’re ready. The goal is to stretch people, not to break them. If you stretch them too far before they’re ready, you won’t get the results you want. That’s an important lesson for anyone in a leadership position. Yes – you have to stretch people, but you must know their limits. You need to understand their skills and capabilities. If you don’t know those things, then you won’t be able to lead them effectively to experience the success that you want them to attain.
So, as you are working hard every day to build your company, or as you’re building your career, be careful with your expectations and bring people along according to their capabilities.