Last week I (Jeff) had an experience that reminded me that leadership is a team sport – not a solo sport. If you are a leader, I hope you’re on a team. Because when you start performing at too low of a level, you’ll need a teammate or teammates around you who can let you know, and help you to get better.
My wife and I traveled from northwest Iowa to Vail, CO for a denominational gathering. Ostensibly, a retreat. Yeah. No. Not for me. It was a grueling grind.
After arriving back home, and upon further research, I have discovered that experts on altitude sickness have no way of knowing who will get it and who won’t. A person’s fitness level or gender play no role in whether or not he or she gets altitude sickness.
The symptoms of altitude sickness which I developed to a severe extent were: headache, fatigue, sleeplessness, confusion, and, what one article on WebMD said “In severe cases, you do not have the energy to eat, dress yourself, or do anything.” Well I managed to eat and dress myself, but it took longer, like moving through a fog of indecisiveness.
So yes, I had altitude sickness for a couple days at 8,400 feet. Traveling around we went as high as 11,400 feet. I love an adventure and I love the mountains, but they don’t love me!
The crazy thing is this – I did not know why I was feeling so terribly. I knew that in the past I had not done well at high altitudes. I was nervous before we left that I would not feel well or sleep well. I even told Jonny where my life insurance papers were in my office, should I not return!
Even after all that, when I was there, I thought I was handling the altitude well, but could not understand why I was completely exhausted. I thought I was just getting old. Really. I was blind to the cause of my weakness.
I needed my wife to diagnose the problem. She told me. As we traveled east, and out of the mountains, she gave me some Ibuprofen and by the time we got back to 2,500 feet, I was a new man! I felt great!
Sometimes as a leader, we get a little too high, and we get lightheaded. We’re short on oxygen and don’t make the best decisions. We think we’re doing okay, but we’re really not. We’re moving slower, interpreting reality differently, and not bringing an acceptable level of performance to the game. And the problem is, we don’t see it.
We make excuses and defend our actions. We think it’s just a stage we’re going through. We blame failure on others. We’re blind to our weaknesses. We need someone else to step in and inform us that we’re just not getting enough oxygen, that we have altitude sickness.
Who on your leadership team has the permission and authority to tell you that you have altitude sickness? Who is there around you who can tell you that you need to get to a lower altitude for a while to get better? Who has the gravitas to inform you that your performance is no longer acceptable? I am not referring to a demotion, but to getting some much needed help.
My wife warned me before we went. I didn’t listen. She asked me when we were there. I didn’t hear her. I was like the proverbial frog in the kettle, as the water got to the boiling point, I didn’t know enough to jump out! Finally, she gave me a reality check and helped me understand. Now I see it! I could not see it in my fog of disorientation.
All we need to do is one thing. Let’s not lead alone. Let’s give another or others the permission to help us lead. Then, when our kettle starts to warm up, someone is there to yank us out! Who’s on your team?
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