The Balloon Story – Avoid Getting Filled with Hot Air

One day a fellow was flying in a hot air balloon but realized he was lost. He saw a guy in a field and yelled down “Where am I?”

The man yelled back, “You’re in a hot air balloon, about 30 feet off the ground, flying over a cornfield.”

The guy in the balloon shouts back, “You must be a technology consultant.”

The guy in the field says, “Yes, I am. How did you know?”

The balloon guy says “Because everything you told me is technically correct but of absolutely no value.”

The guy on the ground says, “You must be an executive or a business owner.”

The balloon pilot says “Yes I am, how did you know.”

Consultant says, “You don’t know any more now than you did when you first got here. You are exactly in the same position as when you started. You are lost and don’t know where you are going. Now, after all that, somehow it is my fault.”

Leadership Might

Have you ever had this experience before? As a leader, hopefully not. Yet far too often we find ourselves operating in some kind of pocket. We get cozy with what we are doing and become blatantly unable to see beyond our own view.

How can this be avoided?

First, avoid getting filled with your own hot air. Being in a management role has a very dark side. The power that might come from the position can be overused or abused. The depth and breadth of the power given by a position must be managed from within.

I actually choose to leave the power of the position for an absolute last option; one which I prefer never to use. There are too many other more meaningful tools a leader can use to influence those who report to him.

As a young lieutenant in the Army, I experienced the impact that power bestowed by position can bring. Just months after taking my first duty station as the executive officer of a large troop training company (I was #2 in command) the Commander was sent on temporary duty to another base. I was now in charge. Among many things a unit commander must do, administering military justice under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) was one of those duties.

The unit commander has the responsibility as prosecutor, judge, and jury under certain articles of the UCMJ. When a soldier violated some rule or law, they became subject to action under this code.

As fate would have it, I had several instances of the need to hold court for some of my troops. After about 6 cases came before me, I was starting to get intoxicated by the power. I could garnish wages, reduce rank and confine people to quarters. It felt awesome to wield this much power. Granted, I was all of 23 years old, fresh out of officer basic training, but the lure of this power was compelling.

I woke up one morning scared to death. I realized I was slipping off into some abyss of mental temptation, wanting more opportunity to exercise this power. Rather than applying it as intended to maintain order within the company, I was feeling energized by the authority.

Fortunately, my better training kicked in. Even the training I had as a child emerged; the classic right from wrong stuff. I was wrong looking at my responsibility this way. It was clear I needed to put in check the energy I felt about this power.

Listen More Than You Speak

One other vitally important way to avoid becoming the arrogant executive is to listen more to those around you. Become a better listener. Don’t just nod your head when others speak. Actively engage your mind to absorb the message.

Stop thinking about your next words when someone else is speaking. You’ll have time to formulate the right response. Take in the essence of the meaning someone is sharing. Give them feedback. Seek clarity on the topic.

Then and only then should you begin to assert your own ideas.

There’s an interesting truth that might appear. The other person’s idea might be better than yours. If so, acknowledge it. Run with it.

Besides having a good solution to the situation, you build trust and rapport with your team by recognizing their contributions. You totally eliminate that “my way or the highway” reputation.

For the Next Time

The next time you “climb into the balloon” have a better grasp of your flight path. Learn the surroundings before you take off. Be equipped with a map of the area so that if you veer off course you can establish some landmarks to guide back on course.

These are all metaphors for good planning and execution. Never operate on a whim.

Leadership is a life learning proposition. Stay committed to finding ways to strengthen your leadership ability. The last accomplishment is but a stepping stone to something even bigger and better.

What ways have you found to check your attitude about your leadership power? Leave a comment

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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