The pain of growing in leadership is like riding a bike into the wind.
I know this because I ride a bike. Not a Harley motorcycle type of bike. Think less leather jacket and more tight shorts. Mental snapshot taken? You’re welcome.
When I’m riding into the wind, I am anxiously anticipating the moment when I can turn around and go in the opposite direction. I motivate myself to keep pushing because I know that when I turn the other way, the wind will be at my back and all will be right with the world.
In every other location on earth this is true, but unfortunately, not in North Texas where I live. The wind here is a mocker! Somehow, even though it is coming at you going north, when you turn south, it is right there again – as Bono would say, “Hot like a hair dryer in your face.”
Recently, I rode for ten miles into the wind and the whole way I told myself, “Just keep going. When you turn around, the wind will be at your back.” You know what happened, right? I turned around to head back home and realized that the wind was blowing even stronger. This is the point at which (a) You fake a knee injury and quit, (b) you cry, or (c) you suck it up and keep going.
On my leadership journey, I have spent many seasons feeling like I was leading into the wind. Frustrated by my own shortcomings as a young leader, I would long for the next turn. I just knew if I could make it there that I would feel the wind at my back once again. Upon arriving at the next turn, boy was I surprised to find that what I had been struggling against was a gentle breeze compared to the rolling winds around this new corner.
In leadership, it is best if we accept that we will most often be leading into the wind. This perspective will help us to fight off frustration and persevere through long stretches of leading at the edge of our abilities. If we endure, the payoff is worthwhile. We will be stronger and more prepared for the new challenges ahead.
When leading against the wind, here are a few things you can do to ease the frustration and keep you pushing through to the next level.
1. Don’t hate the wind.
Be careful not to personify challenges as adversaries. Instead, view them as essential ingredients for your growth as a leader. Without resistance or intensity, you will roll on for miles and miles without getting stronger or faster or without any significant change. In cycling, these are called “junk miles” – miles that result in no gain in speed or endurance. Without the wind, you are prone to think more highly of your strengths than you ought to. Easy flat roads are nice, but they will lull you to sleep. The wind keeps you awake. It keeps you working. It keeps you humble. The wind in your face is the friend that reminds you that there is still work to be done on your leadership journey.
2. Don’t wait to refuel.
When riding, if I feel sluggish, it means I am already way past the time that I needed to refuel. The best way to stay full of energy is to refuel before you feel sluggish. You need to refuel as a leader. Whether it’s reading the Word, listening to a podcast, going on a vacation, taking a sabbatical, or rebooting your eating habits, plan them before you think you need them. Don’t wait until you crash to refuel. Leading into the wind takes more out of you than you might like to admit. You are a finite person with finite energy and resources. Create and implement a refueling strategy.
3. Don’t fight the wind alone.
In many cycling races, you will see teams riding together in a linear group called a peloton. They take turns fighting the wind at the front while the other riders conserve energy by drafting behind each leader. When drafting, a rider can use up to 30% less energy. That’s huge! Find a group of people who are wiling to lead alongside you and share the load. These could be people inside your organization or outside. Whatever you do, don’t fight it alone. Leverage the connectivity of the world around you and find a peloton – a group of people that will keep you moving when you want to quit.
4. Don’t stop pedaling.
In the end, the only way to finish is to keep moving. Against the wind, you need to scrap and scrape for every bit of momentum you can find. Gaining momentum in leadership is much harder than sustaining it. When you quit, you lose it all. Don’t quit because you’re afraid, uncertain, or frustrated. Just keep pedaling. With each day you are learning new lessons, strengthening your skills, and preparing yourself for the challenges that lie ahead.
Do whatever it takes to keep perspective, press on, and grow through the pain. See the wind as God’s gift to you as a young leader. Keep pedaling because some day you are going to turn the corner and the wind will be at your back. Only then will you be able to truly see how strong you have become. There is nothing quite like riding or leading with the wind behind you and feeling fully ready to take the road ahead of you. All that you have learned in the difficult times, going against the wind, has strengthened you for such a time as this. Trust God’s training and His timing. Your season with the wind at your back will come and when it does, lean in and go! Lead well. Enjoy the ride.