When was the last time you did something for the first time?
I love learning, and think it’s as critical to good leadership as circulation is to a body of water. Whether through reading or talking to others — as Ryan Hawk does with world-class leaders and performers for his podcast, The Learning Leader Show — opening our eyes, ears, and minds to the ideas and insights of others is a vital practice to feeding our growth as leaders, parents, and people.
However, this is not what I’m talking about.
When was the last time you introduced your brain to new information that required it to operate your body in new ways, while navigating the emotional landscape of being way outside its comfort zone?
If you follow my twitter feed at all, you know I love watching hockey. As a result, my 8-yr-old son loves watching it too. He pretends to score wicked wristers and make beautiful kick saves on the linoleum floor of our kitchen. He would love to play hockey for real, but he doesn’t know how to ice skate.
Neither do I.
So, yesterday, we both embarked on our journey to learn with our first session of Basic 1 skating lessons with Learn to Skate Cincinnati. We laced our rental skates up good and tight, walked our way out to the glass, and found the list with his name on it for him to wait for his teacher. There were about a dozen other kids’ names on the list as well.
Leaving my son, I made my way down the glass to find the list of adults with whom I would be learning to skate. I found the Adults Basic 1 sheet taped to the glass down the wall near center ice. It had one name on it: mine. That’s right: what I thought I signed up for — a group class of fellow adults who were every bit the ice skating virgins as I was — turned out to be just me.
For the next thirty minutes, my brain was not only forced to open itself to receive and learn new information — it also had to construct new commands to transmit down to micromuscles around my feet and ankles I never knew I had. It had to process new bits of balance input data it had never encountered before. I also had to struggle with the realization that the biggest muscles in my body — my legs — are much weaker than I could have guessed. While doing all of this, my brain also had to manage the emotions that demand attention when you’re the only adult in an entire ice arena full of kids learning to skate or how to play hockey. (There were plenty of parents and grandparents of all those children lining the outside of the rink.) When you’re on your hands and knees on the floor learning the first lesson of the first day — how to get up after you fall down — you won’t get far if embarrassment or pride have their say.
Beyond acquiring a new recreational skill like ice skating, experiencing everything that goes along with learning to do something new is hugely beneficial for Leaders to go through. Learning a new skill can do so much to improve actual leadership capability:
- It brings a new perspective to your field of thinking.
- It feeds the brain new ideas and ways of thinking that can be the seeds of future innovative ideas.
- It cultivates empathy needed to relate to what your people go through as they have to learn new tasks necessitated by your latest new idea.
- It stimulates the sense of humor needed to laugh at oneself from time to time.
Look around your day and the world in which you are the Leader. What task do you ever encounter that is totally new to you, requiring skills you don’t have and abilities you’ve rarely ever used? If you can’t find anything that fits this description, come join me at the rink. I’ll be the only person taller than 4 feet struggling to learn how to swizzle.