What's your glide?

Photo by Alternate Skate

I've bought a new suitcase. 

It’s important to understand: my old suitcase was, well old.  Its wheels had started to refashion themselves as octagons. My new suitcase has four wheels, and they spin like a dream.  So you can imagine my joy when, on its first outing at the airport, the new suitcase seemed to glide along with little or no effort from me. As if all I needed to say was “heel” and it would obey. “This is the best damn glidey suitcase ever!” I thought to myself.

Until... upon joining the queue of people waiting to board the plane on the airbridge, I stopped and pulled out my phone to check a message. Suddenly, I hear a voice from behind: “Excuse me, is that your bag?” My new suitcase was so freakin' glidey that it had made its way down the airbridge all by itself, rolling down the first little slope it came to.

Suddenly, its glide had become its downfall. Not just this once, but many times since. Rolling down driveways, along carparks, into gutters… I’m the guy chasing after the rogue suitcase.

This made think … do we all have a “glide”?  The thing that one minute is our superpower, and then all of a sudden becomes our kryptonite? One of mine is consultation. I love to seek out people’s opinions and listen to long bouts of discussion. But it can also be my weakness, because sometimes I miss the beat to take the lead when needed, or I can hold off making decisions for too long.

Take the example of Kathryn, whose biggest strength as a leader is making sense of stuff - cutting through complexity and making things simple. But when I asked Kathryn “when does that become your kryptonite?”, she paused for a moment, and responded: “It means that sometimes I don’t leave room for discussion about the complex and ambiguous stuff.  I have a tendency to skip through the ‘messy stuff’ too quickly and that can short circuit the opportunity for meaningful conversation.”

So once you know what your personal 'glide' is how do you stop yourself from rolling down the little slope?  The next step is to identify the corresponding behaviour that will help you to keep your glide in check.  For me (remember, consultation is my glide), the corresponding behaviour is what I like to call 'driving' - where I make recommendations and drive towards a decision.  To remind myself, I picture a couple of dials on an old school amplifier - a bit like the treble and the bass, except one is labelled 'consultation' and the other labelled 'driving' - and in my mind, I physically adjust the dials in the right direction. When I feel my glide is getting out of balance, I dial down consultation, and dial up driving. As it turns out, they’re both things I have in my repertoire. It’s just that one tends to eclipse the other.

This worked a treat for Kathryn, too. Now, when she’s in a conversation, she mentally dials down 'simplify stuff' and dials up 'embrace ambiguity'. Sometimes she even calls it out, saying something like, “I have a tendency to want to simplify things, but I don’t want to miss the shades of grey here...” She finds this helps to keep herself in check.

So, what’s your glide?