Recently a good friend and I spent half a day at the World Barefooting Center and a leadership lesson was dropped on me like a bomb.
I reluctantly learned to barefoot waterski with a couple of high school friends. When we skied together, I drove the boat while they were barefooting; but my unwillingness to learn resulted in them calling my manhood into question. Needless to say, it only took me one summer to learn, and it has now become something I’ve loved doing for 25 years.
The half-day with World Barefooting Champion, Dave Small, illustrated over and over again that I had spent 25 years learning the hard way. Literally, there were little things about every aspect of my barefooting that needed tweaking.
As I drove away, it struck me that I learned more in four hours with a pro than in 25 years on my own. My barefooting would have been revolutionized if I would’ve done this 20 years ago. Ironically, I was usually in Florida at least once, if not three or four times a year. What would my barefooting be like today if I would have spent one afternoon a year with Dave Small?
This is where the leadership lesson bomb began to detonate . . . This very same thing is true in my leadership and I can NOT afford to be a 25 year leadership rookie.
Learning the hard way isn’t worth it
Looking back, there were many things I did that were really bad. I learned to barefoot without any protective equipment, and developed a bad habit when I fell, that resulted in a couple of bad disks in my back.
After 25 years of practice and pain, I’m a barefooting rookie.
Learning leadership the hard way usually leaves a path littered with bloodied people, broken relationships, failed ministries and businesses, along with a lot of denial and regret.
The price of learning the hard way isn’t worth the pain, and while we think the practice is good, at the end of the day, we don’t want to wake up 25 years later to realize we’re still leadership rookies. Leadership is one of those skills that must be learned with experience, but learning the hard way is clearly a “tough row to hoe.”
Learning the hard way comes from not knowing and using our dogged determination to struggle through the lack of knowledge. It will only get you so far, and comes with significantly more work and pain.
“Like most leaders, I wish I’d known in the beginning what I knew at the end.” – John Wooden
Learn from the best
Keith St. Onge and Dave Small, at the World Barefoot Center, have taken first and second place barefooting world championships for the past seven years; they are the best in the world. When I stepped into the ski boat, Dave Small asked me what I wanted to learn and what my goals were. For me it was perfecting tumble turns and learning to slide on my side; for my friend Jerry, it was barefooting backward.
In just four hours, both of us walked away with our goals met.
I’ve been working on tumble turns for seven years to little avail and in just a few hours, I had them down. When it comes to our leadership, we need to find a pro and solicit their help—someone who knows exactly how things are done and can teach them with ease. Learning from the best is light years better than trying to do it all yourself.
“Self-made leaders tend to be self-absorbed and shallow; great leaders are shaped by great coaches.” – John Armstrong
Pay the price
When Jerry and I first decided to attend The World Barefooting Center, I was a little hesitant at taking a day off work, traveling four hours, and spending $150. Driving away from the experience, my perspective was totally transformed.
I wish I had invested the time and money 20 years ago; now I’ll do it at least once if not several times a year. Ironically, the biggest sacrifice was two days of barely being able to move and 10 days of being sore from head to toe! But now . . . the sense of accomplishment is a huge confidence boost and the cost is unimportant. I simply had to get past the initial cost barrier and once I did, the learning skyrocketed.
How much more important is our leadership than our skiing? The influence and impact of our leadership are significant, and we can’t afford to be cheapskates. Investing in a great book, conference, and mentor is worth every penny.
“The highest tuition of all is paid to the School of Hard Knocks.” – Wizard Academy
Develop an insatiable desire to learn and apply
At the end of my time in the water, Dave Small tells me to try getting up backward. As the reader, you need to understand . . . this means being pulled up backward with your face in the water to which your nose serves as a funnel for lake water to fill up your head.
I’ve never had a desire to learn, and I tried to communicate every way possible I wasn’t interested, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He taught me the mechanics, and we did two pull-ups to give me the feel. Needless to say, that is one of my goals for the future.
As leaders, we can’t afford to be reluctant and must have an insatiable desire to learn. As a matter of fact, the depth of our leadership is in direct proportion to our desire to learn and apply. This means incessantly reading, listening to podcasts, attending conferences, having a mentor, and any other method that works.
“The best leaders understand that to successfully compete at any level requires continuous learning and improvement.” – John Wooden
Go find a world champion—someone who can take you to the next level—who can shorten, strengthen, and perfect the learning process. Pay the price; it is worth every penny.
Here is a an awesome video with more than 2,600,000 views on YouTube Featuring Keith St. Onge, Dave Small and the World Barefoot Center, that will blow you away.