Monday, October 27, 2008

Training leadership "downhill" style

When I was growing up, we lived about 45 minutes from a world renown ski resort. Fortunately for us, "the mountain" was privately owned by a local who encouraged local kids to ski for just $1 a day with a school ID. I don't remember going too often when I was in elementary school, but do remember my dad teaching me to ski--which meant he would "wedge" backwards and hold our poles out at waist level so I could hold them for balance and then I would wedge between his legs. We went down the bunny hill many times in that fashion. I have no idea how he managed to ski backward with such grace or how he was so patient as to spend the day wedging backward with me rather than actually skiing, but that's beside the point. I was slow to gain confidence on the slopes and he stayed with me as I learned.

I do remember one day when he and my sister went to go do one run on a more advanced slope. They sent me up the hill on my own and now, in retrospect, I know he would have easily met me at the bottom almost immediately. But, at the time, I was scared. I managed to touch the emergency shut off pole when I got off the lift and then freaked at the top. I had to "cop a squat" near the tower while I waited for the rescue team. They brought the toboggan for me, but I told them I could ski, so we skied down to the nurses station where they called my dad on the loud speaker. I remember he came in in a panic worried that I was actually hurt, relieved that I was just a spaz. =) (That's my word, not his....) I'm not sure how the lessons went after that, just that by junior high I took a few more lessons and kept skiing on school trips. I stayed with the cautious skiers while my friends joined the race team.

My brother, unlike me, was taught by my aunt and uncle who lived in Mammoth. By his account, they took him to the top of the lift and said "meet you at the bottom". And from there he skied down. I can't say that I've ever skied with him to know how well he skies, but he does seem to be more confident than I am on the slopes.

So, this isn't just some walk down memory lane, I think this actually applies to church work. I've been thinking about leadership development a lot lately. How do I train leaders? How do I train leaders to then train leaders? What are the qualities and skills to focus on? What are the best ways to teach and foster those skills? And then it dawned on me, for some folks I end up teaching them like my brother learned to ski: "meet you at the bottom". These are the folks that show natural skills and can be "thrown in". I have one woman who subbed for me while I was gone, I didn't "train" her, she had seen and participated in the lesson when I taught her class and she was ready to hit the road running when I needed her to teach the same lesson with another group.

There are others, more like me, to whom I seem to be attached at the hip--guiding them through teaching or worship or programming. They never really gain the confidence needed to excel, stopping and calling for the rescue team when left on their own.

So, the question becomes is it a reflection of the student or the teacher or both? What determines that "just do it" attitude? And how can you foster greater confidence who want to remain forever wedging down the bunny slope?

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