Something I have learned throughout my life is, we don’t have a lot of control over the events that happen around us. The price of the stock market, the length of time the supply chain takes to deliver an item to us, or how the neighbor likes to party all night.
But, we do have control over our response to those events. Just like walking into a low hanging cloud along a trail, we can’t see the end of those decisions and responses. But the more we practice, the more predictable the outcomes will be.
Leadership, like life, often gives us events that we didn’t have the foresight to see coming. After all, it is near impossible to actually see the future before it happens, unless you running an experiment. In my experience, the only thing that I can predict the outcome of is my response to situations.
I intentionally take time to practice my self-awareness of how I handle different situations to get the outcomes I want. If you have been following along this journey of unpacking the Lessons from the Mountain you’ll know that this is Leadership Lesson #4.
When I think back to the Mt Baker climb, dawn was approaching and we could see blue sky patches starting to get bigger by the minute. We stood near the crater rim deciding if we were going to continue or turn back. The weather was cold that morning, near freezing, despite the fact that it was the beginning of July.
After checking in with everyone on the team, we were going to go for the summit. For most of the climb, I was leading the rope team but we switched the order of the team. Kyle, our lead guide, led the team away from the crater rim area around 7am.
We made our way up to the Roman Wall, a steep section of ice and snow with single track switchbacks carved into it to walk on. We were in a cue of about 10 rope teams and we were somewhere in the middle.
It kind of felt like a traffic jam, where you would move a few steps and then stop. Then move a few more, then stop. Some of the rope teams that were going up were not moving very quickly which by itself was part of the slowness. Added to that, downhill traffic was trying to come down the way we were going up. This created a lot of confusion.
It would have been really easy to lose control and get upset at the things unfolding in front of me, but it can really pay off to have a sense of acceptance of the nature of things. In that moment, I chose to breathe and enjoy the scenery.
Building Self-Awareness Can Have Big Payoffs
Often we don’t have a lot of control over the events that happen around us, but we do have control over our response to them. Losing control in that kind of environment would only have made a bad situation worse.
If you start to lose your temper or self-control in that environment, you will draw a lot of attention to yourself. You will also make everyone else around you nervous. Not the kind of feels you want when on the side of mountain, freezing your toes off.
Business environments can have similar events. Your boss could ask you to take on a new project in the middle of you working on another one. The email or phone calls you sent haven’t been answered by the other person for one reason or another and your work is stalled as a result. Or maybe the meetings you go to feel like a giant waste of time and aren’t producing any tangible results or forward movement.
Whatever the event, when you lose control in meetings or when dealing with circumstances, it makes the situation so much worse than it is. Not only do you still need to deal with the circumstance in front of you, now you have to deal with the fact that you are losing control. You will most likely say or do something that you regret.
How do I know this? I used to be that guy. I used to lose my temper quickly and get frustrated easily. I would go off on people because things weren’t happening in my timeline of things.
Since I have focused on my self-awareness and practicing mindfulness, it has made me a much better leader, and I would like to think a much better human to be around. At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that I am the only thing I really have control over. Rather than give that control away, it is much better to practice my response and how I use my power.