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Five snowboarding lessons you can apply as a manager

I learned how to snowboard in my 30s. It wasn’t something I dreamt of doing or planned for a long time - I just had the chance to try. At the time, it was something fun with friends on New Year. Upon reflection, it was a great way to return to a beginner’s mindset, and learn something from zero.

Six years and a broken collarbone later, I am still learning, unlearning, relearning, and enjoying every moment on the board. It will always be just a hobby, but I’ve come to realize that it can also be a space for self-observation and experimenting, as it requires being present and focused on the sensations of my body. Another one of my recent discoveries was that some snowboarding insights could apply to people management, whether you are just beginning in this role or already an experienced leader.

1. Gain self-awareness to minimize fa(i)lling

In snowboarding, being present matters. If you’re not paying attention to your posture, you lose balance and fall. If you’re unaware of which foot you’re applying more pressure on, you miss the turn - and fall.

A similar level of awareness matters in people management as well to objectively evaluate yourself and the impact of your actions, keep your ego in check, manage your emotions, and understand how others perceive your communication and actions.

2. Let go of habits that no longer serve you

When learning how to snowboard, life-long habits end up in the way of progress. For example, you need to let go of the self-preservation instinct that makes you lean back when going downhill, and start leaning toward the slope instead.

As a manager, it can be difficult to break the habit of doing things yourself instead of delegating tasks to your team members, especially at first. If your expertise previously gave you full control of your performance and outcomes, getting results through motivating, coaching, and mentoring others can feel uncomfortable and counterintuitive. Yet it is necessary for their and your development and growth.

3. Control your mind so you can enjoy your ride

On the slopes, your mind can be your biggest friend or foe. There are days when your hyper-vigilant inner voice tells you the slope is too steep for your level, although you faced more difficult slopes a day before. Depending on your mindset, you can struggle down a blue slope with the fear of injury paralyzing every muscle. Or you manage to let go of your fears and negative thoughts, get “in the flow” and enjoy the ride.

Throughout the people manager journey, overcoming the impostor syndrome can be a big energy drainer. Fear of failing in a new role can turn the initial enthusiasm of getting promoted into self-judgment and controlling behaviors that negatively impact your success. There can be moments when you realize that the strengths and competencies that got you here in the first place, might no longer serve you. How you react to such challenges depends on your mindset. You can get discouraged or become curious to explore the learning curve and discern which skills help you perform and what you need to improve on.

4. Speed matters, but so does balance

In snowboarding, speed helps you control your turns, ride more elegantly, and, as surprising as it might seem, reduces the risk of falling. But speed without balance and good body coordination is a recipe for injuries, and the key to learning snowboarding is to keep most of your weight stacked over your board.

In your journey as a manager, you are motivated to get results fast, engage your team, and lead them towards desired outcomes with incredible speed and impact, which is great. But it can be easy to lose track of time and forget how important work-life balance is for both, which leads to burnout and underperformance.

5. When you fa(i)ll, learn and move on

One of the most valuable lessons snowboarding teaches you is that fa(i)lling is part of the learning process. There is no progress if you don’t make mistakes and learn from them. Some falls come with injuries, and at that point, you might need to learn how to overcome your fears and anxieties, so you can enjoy riding again. You might need an instructor to do that - at least I did.

Similarly, making mistakes is part of your development as a manager and learning from them is key to your success in this role. There will be occasional failures, and you will need to choose between giving up and overcoming your fears and uncertainties so you can carry on. You might need a coach or mentor to do that - at least I did.

I don’t know if these lessons would have saved me time, negative emotions, and energy, or if they would have helped me avoid burnout in my first years as a people manager. I am certainly grateful I ended up learning them from snowboarding later on. They are not to be considered axioms, but rather fragments of experience. I’d love to hear whether you find them useful or applicable in your developmental journey.

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