Progress is Multi-Directional

One of my favorite type of business books is what I call "business memoirs." These are first-person narratives where you learn how someone saved a business, built a successful business, or learned something. They are definitely "business books" but because they're told from a person's perspective, they are quicker and easier reads.

I picked-up a different type of business memoir last week called On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership by Alison Levine. Unlike most business memoirs that have a business at their center, Alison's story is about the leadership skills she learned on her various mountain climbing expeditions.

Alison takes us through the planning, the training, the challenges, the tragedies, and the successes she experienced in her many climbs of various mountains. This is not a world I have any familiarity with, so it was fascinating reading just for that insider view, but she also connected it to business and leadership skills.

As she explains, everyone on an expedition has to be both a leader and a team player since working well together and looking out for each other is often the difference between life and death. Failure in her world is often fatal and you are constantly pushing yourself past your body's natural endurance. And it's up to the leader to make the tough call: do you take the chance and fight the ever-changing weather or is it too risky and to keep your people safe, you insist they turn back so they can live to try again an other day.

One of the leadership lessons Alison shares is that sometimes you have to move backwards to make progress. She explains that the only way one's body can adjust to extreme altitudes is to climb back down to ground level, rest and recharge, and then climb back up until you get one level higher. Doing this enough times is the difference between making it to the top and not.

Most of us won't have life and death decisions on our heads (hopefully), but we can still benefit from not viewing "progress" from one direction only.

If we were to redefine progress as anything that helps us achieve our end goal, regardless of the direction or length of time, would that not be liberating? Since we judge so much of our actions and those of others by the progress that's made, perhaps we need to stop. 

Personally, think bigger picture: has this sideways or backwards step taught you something you could use to go forward? Has it helped you reevaluate your current plans and perhaps helped make the ultimate product/service better? If yes, then both are clearly "progress."

And since we have no way of judging whether someone else's backward action will help propel them onward faster or farther, we shouldn't judge their actions at all.

So have you been overly critical about your own "progress"? What can you reframe from this new perspective?


Karina is VP of Operations and HR at 24/7 Teach.

Originally posted on Business Common Sense blog.

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