When leadership is not leading
"Did you ever jump out of a plane?" Jamie asked me over coffee this morning.
"Can't say I have. Why do you ask?"
We discussed a book he recommended called Leadership and Self Deception. He told me he’s reread the book every year since the last time we met. Jamie is a leader I admire, and I figured if it was important to him and his development, I should read it too, which I did.
Jamie was reminded of his parachuting experience while we talked about how our desire to control prevents us from enjoying life.
Here is how Jamie told it.
I was strapped to my instructor. He was on my back. He wore a parachute.
We stepped out of the plane to prepare for our jump. With both hands, I immediately took hold of the wing spar. My instructor told me, "Let go,"
I said, "OK." But I didn't let go. My mind told me I had to let go, but I was still holding on.
He said, "You have to let go now, or we will miss our landing zone."
The instructor then said, "Cross your arms to your chest." He grabbed the wing spar himself. When I saw he had a good grip, I let go. Then, surprisingly, he let go.
For the first fifteen seconds, I was thrashing. I felt like a cat falling through the air, trying to find something to hold on to. My arms and legs were all over, trying to find something to grasp. There was nothing. I wouldn't say I liked this moment of the jump experience.
Then I realized I needed to accept that I was free-falling. And that's when I experienced the exhilaration of free-falling at 180 feet per second. The wind was rushing by me as the earth got closer and closer. It wasn't scary. It was exciting.
Then the instructor pulled the ripcord. The parachute deployed. This was another transition in the jump. I went from a feeling of exhilaration to complete peace.
There was no sound. I was floating. It was a fantastic sense of peace. Something I'll never forget.
This was a metaphor for where I am in life.
As Jamie was telling me this story, I was thinking about where I am in life. I am moving from active leadership positions, fully engaged, to becoming an elder (for lack of a better word).
Over the last couple of years, I knew I needed to let go. I believed I was letting go. But I realized from Jamie's story that I didn't let go. I thought I did, but I didn't. I'm sure the people around me saw it. I didn't. Now, looking back to that time, I do.
This was me trying to stay in control.
But I did finally let go.
I decided to step out of leadership. I told the people in the two organizations I am leading that this is my last year. Their reaction was interesting.
I thought to myself, "Surely they will try to talk me out of leaving."
Not so much.
There was an affirming nod and then crickets when I announced the decision. No one said a word. Then they started to talk about who would lead next. They even began talking about where the organizations might go. What new and exciting ideas they have going forward.
Instead of being disappointed by their reaction, I was exhilarated. They were excited about the opportunity to lead. They were excited about the possibilities.
I find myself headed to a new role—the role of the elder. My job will no longer be leading. My new role will be one of influence and availability. I say availability as it will be up to the new leadership to choose to discuss their new plans and issues with me. They will be leading these organizations, not me. I am simply available if they think I might be able to help them succeed.
I am now looking forward to this new role.
Toward the end of my transition from leadership, the new leaders will pull the ripcord on my parachute. I'll no longer be a leader. I'll be floating. I'll be at peace.
I'm looking forward to this time of my life. In fact, in prayer, I've become excited about it. I don't know what's next for me, but I know it will be new and exciting. New learning, growth, relationships, and, ultimately, a soft landing. That's how God works. He has a plan for my life.
I thought all of this as Jamie was telling me his jump story. Isn't God amazing how He works through our relationships?
Thanks, Jamie, for showing me where I am in my life. Thanks for putting it all in God's perspective.