Leading & The Importance of Staying Relative

skydiver1Rule #1 for stability in skydiving is understanding the concept of relative wind.  To explain, relative wind is the direction of the atmosphere relative to the skydiver.  When first exiting the airplane, even the most novice jumper is taught to arch directly into the direction the airplane is traveling.  Doing so helps the skydiver achieve maximum stability immediately.  And as he arches, and horizontal momentum slows and vertical momentum increases, a phenomenon known as “the hill” allows the skydivers body to settle effortlessly and fully stably into a traditional belly-to-earth freefall position.

There’s really nothing quite like experiencing that total support and stability of a smoothly executed poised exit from an aircraft!

So, what’s the big deal?  I mean, why in the world am I blogging about this, right?

Well, ultimately stability and understanding of relative winds is for safe, stable, and adaptable freefall.  How your body movements (from slight motions of your arms and legs to even the positioning of your head) affect your ability to be adaptable “in flight” is critical to a successful freefall.

IMG_7196In leadership, understanding the direction of resistance and how that resistance may affect one’s success in implementing change (major or just tweaks to existing policy, practice, or products) is equally important.  No leader can hope to influence others without such awareness on all stakeholders.

But why care about the maneuverability?  Why not just worry about stability?  After all, isn’t it instability (a byproduct of resistance) that undermines most change efforts?

One certainly could only focus on stability.  Maintain ultimate stability throughout the leading of change.  And the same could be said of skydiving.  On every jump, I could gain initial stability, and simply be maintaining a solid arch throughout the minute of freefall, still make it to the ground.  There are two key problems, however.

  1. When a skydiver needs to move to eventually deploy his parachute, without understanding the effects of relative wind, he will immediately risk stability just by a change in body position.  If that happens, the parachute may not deploy smoothly, in the correct position, or without line twists once the material opens above your head.
  2. What a boring ride!!  Imagine much more interesting it is to be able to fly (using your knowledge of air currents and relative wind) toward others, away from others, or simply to change one’s perspective on the surrounding environment.  What about being able to avoid collisions with others or to “fly” out of harm’s way?

These same problems exist for leaders only content to maintain stability at all costs.  One, any change in perspective or external factors immediately puts a leader’s change stability at risk.  And throughout a change initiative, strong leaders must be able to slightly change direction, respond to additional inputs and potential pitfalls.

skydive-pennridge-parachuteSo, in your leadership of changes in your organization, adopt a skydiver’s mentality.  Plan out your jump, and pay attention (explicit attention) to the direction and source of resistance.  And understand the need to make minor adjustments all throughout your change effort, deflecting resistance, tweaking your positioning, and avoiding major obstacles.  In the end, you’ll not only successfully deploy your organizational chute, but you’ll have had a phenomenal and rewarding ride in the meantime.

Just, don’t refer to your change effort as “freefall”…..that’s where the analogy ends!

3 thoughts on “Leading & The Importance of Staying Relative

  1. Great analogy Trevor. I assume you are an experienced skydiver; even the best storyteller without having “lived” it wouldn’t be able to explain the analogy so eloquently.

    Well done. (Yes, I have 600+ jumps too.)

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