What I have learned about leadership as a ski-instructor
It is the heat of the summer and I am thinking of skiing?! Well, yes, why not. I am thinking of skiing lots of time, regardless of the season. Why? Because it is one of my dearest passions. Hence, there is no such thing as season-based thinking. But there is another reason why I bring up skiing. It is through my many years as a ski-instructor that I have learned a LOT about leadership. Let me share with you why, how and what elements I find critical in and for effective leadership:
I have been a passionate skier and snowboarder for as long as I can remember. Sharing this passion in the form of teaching skiing and snowboarding is rewarding and fund. My clients as well as other skiers can see and feel my passion which is contagious and thus can help them to improve their skiing.
Well, do I have to add anything. Of course, I love skiing and teaching because it is FUN.
Sharing my experience and expertise with others gives me the tickles. I cannot micromanage my clients, do a move for them. I can show them, encourage them and help them build their own skills set through a progression of exercises. But they have to do it.
A good instructor is a good listener. And not only verbal listening. You have to be able to read the body and emotional language of your clients.
Motivation – Vision – Goals
Good ski instructors can quickly find out what motivates their clients to come to a ski “lesson”, what their vision is and what their goals are. They may not always be feasible. But that’s not the point. Understanding what drives your clients is a foundation for a joyful day and building a good learning environment.
Yes, as a ski instructor you do plan your lesson. The longer you have taught the more experience you have, the bigger the bag of tricks you bring a long. At the same you know that it is futile to plan every single detail of your lesson. It is not about the lesson plan a ski instructor may have, it is about the client. And they are on vacation and may change their plans of the day. If in this case you stick to your plan, you lose your client. Hence, a plan is a good orientation if you stay flexible. This brings me to the next point …
Let it happen
Learning how to ski cannot be accomplished in a class room. You have to go outside and do it. For the ski instructor this means you have to give your clients the chance to practice, practice, practice and ski, ski, ski. Don’t try to control your clients. Let it happen and go with the flow.
Teaching is fun and rewarding. But it is not limited to instructing. Playing, i.e., skiing, is and always has to be a central part of your successful lesson.
I would have to lie if I claim that every single ski lesson is a bliss. This is not the case. There are days when things just don’t go as planned, everything is off track. Frustration looms and it is just a bad day. This is important, too, for you appreciate the normal and better days even more.
I have worked at many ski resorts for quite a few companies. Teaching skiing is always fun, no doubt. And yet, it makes a big difference if you can also identify yourself with the mission of the company you work for. At Vail Ski Resorts one of the corporate mottos is “Making vacation dreams come true”. During the onboarding workshops prior to my first (of nine) seasons at Vail we were explained that it is expected from us to live by this motto. Well, this wasn’t difficult at all. “Making vacation dreams come true” means that as a ski instructor you go the extra mile to make a ski lesson a memorable experience to your cllient. And whenever they have fun and enjoy themselves, you do, too. Things flow freely. Big smiles.
Sharpen your saw / continuous improvement
Being a fully certified ski does not mean that I have stopped training. The opposite is the case. Formally, every ski instructor has to attend 2-3 days of training every other year. Personally, I am always looking for good training opportunities. These can be formal trainings or skiing with peers and asking them for feedback. If you want to stay on the cutting edge you have to do something about it. This means that you always have to sharpen your saw.
Precaution and preparation
Skiing is an outdoor activity. Weather in the mountains can change within minutes. There may be a blue sky in the morning and a severe snow storm in the afternoon. Good ski instructors take necessary precaution for themselves and their client.
Enjoying the environment
When was the last time you explained to a client “Welcome to my office!” and the client looked at you with awe and said “I wish I could spend some more time here.” My office when I teach skiing = the mountains and the great outdoors. They are not “my” office. I may use the space. And I am grateful for it.
Sometimes I wonder what it is that I love so much about skiing and teaching skiing. Good question. I believe it that the fact that teaching skiing gives me the opportunity to integrate passion and thus happiness with my work. It is all one at one point.