What Mountain Biking Has To Do With Goal Setting And Mentorship

What Mountain Biking Has To Do With Goal Setting And Mentorship

I’ve read a lot of business books and columns about how to make it to the top, how to be a good leader, how to make difficult decisions, etc., but one area that might need a bit more focus is simply related to how to be a good mentor.

When you’ve worked your way up into a senior leadership position at a company, it’s easy to forget about the more tenuous years in your career when performance reviews were paramount. It’s at this stage of your life that you might start taking for granted the impact your words and advice have on the employees you’re helping rise through the ranks. This isn’t to say you’ve been overly harsh or unkind, but simply that it’s become difficult to truly appreciate the impact a casual conversation with a junior staff member may have on goal setting or other actions. That talk six months ago where you gave specific advice to a promising art director may be a vague shadow in your mind when they follow up to share progress. They could tell you word for word what the problem had been and your exact advice, but it’s likely all quite blurry for you. While it was a significant and memorable moment for them, it must have lacked the same weight in your eyes or you would have remembered.

What’s that saying, “To the world you’re just one person, but to one person you’re the world.”

Now I wouldn’t say that I’m any person’s world other than my son’s (maybe?), but from a career perspective with your employees, you are likely one of the most significant people that can influence their professional growth and success. While it may seem daunting, I would strongly suggest that you keep the impact and influence of your words in the forefront of your mind as you interact with your staff, and treat your conversations like the gems your employees might. If nothing else, it will serve to uphold the genuineness of your stated concern for their job health and happiness.

From my experience, when individuals move into leadership positions they often lose sight of staying truly genuine and really taking the time out of their day (or evening) to understand the nuances and complexities of their key assets – their people. Team dynamics are like copiers that break down at the absolute worst time, but putting off the conversation will certainly exacerbate the problem. Hopefully you end up putting everything aside and engage in the dialog, but to truly engage you can’t be looking at your watch, checking your phone, not making eye contact, etc. If you are doing any of the above then you are missing the opportunity to create a memorable moment for years to come, and probably losing the respect from a key asset or future leader of your firm.

My other observation is that senior leadership often prefers to be reactive to situations versus proactive through regular check-ins. There are so many opportunities to proactively engage with your staff that are often pushed aside by other priorities. How many times have you walked by a team of individuals that worked all weekend to meet a client deadline and didn’t stop to thank them? How often do you take the time to talk with them, thank them and most importantly ask them to show off the results of their efforts?

When it comes to caring and helping younger professionals think through the complexities of their career trajectory, there is one piece of advice that I’ve likely given out the most: setting goals is like mountain biking.

The start of the conversation with an employee often requires sharing a bit of context and asking for patience while I connect the dots between goals and mountain biking. It definitely causes some very unique faces as the connection is introduced.

Simply put, if you want to avoid serious injury while mountain biking, there are two key principles to keep in mind. First, if you look down and focus on the rocks your tires are about to encounter, you’re going to do an end-over (i.e., fly over the handlebars) and get seriously hurt. Instead, you have to look out beyond the rocks at the trail ahead and let the bike absorb the bumps. You’ll keep moving forward and will stay upright, I promise. Setting goals further out on the trail and keeping a keen focus on them while you experience bumps along the way will accelerate your career trajectory and keep you from being derailed.

The second thing to keep in mind is that your natural instinct in response to seeing rocks and roots in your path is to stop pedaling or slow your cadence. Unfortunately, this is the worst thing you can do. Momentum is your friend and the best way to keep from getting hurt is to pedal through the rocky terrain and let your bike absorb the rocks while you remain upright.

Career bumps are going to leap into your path, there is no avoiding them. Just remember to peddle through the bumps and keep your sights on the path ahead.