What It Means To Lean In

Trapeze

Life happens.  We have ups and downs, good times and bad, successes and failures.  It’s easy to be positive and happy when all’s going well but the reality is that nothing goes perfect forever.  Eventually even the best of us, the hardest working among us, and the most optimistic will be tested.  That’s life.  How we deal with those tests determine our success, state of mind, and fulfillment.  Notice I said fulfillment and not happiness.  Fulfillment in life comes from experiencing all life has to offer including the good and bad.  We learn and grow far more from our failures and the bad stuff than the good.  It’s during the times we are tested the hardest that our character comes to light and we grow as human beings. So how do you handle the bad times?  How do you deal with some of the tests life throws your way?  You lean in.

Years ago I was working through a rather difficult period in my career.  I was running Sales for a company that was in turnaround mode.  The company had experienced some success but was on the ropes with just about everything seeming to go wrong.  Sales and service were both failing and cash was tight.  Our employee morale was withering away to nothing.  With each stumble there were layoffs and cutbacks which led to a growing distrust across the employee population.  I had never seen anything like it before, and what had worked for me in the past wasn’t working now.  Frustration was running high and doubt was setting in.  That’s when I talked to Jeff.

I shared my thoughts and concerns with Jeff, a Board member and mentor.  I walked him through my plans, my thought process, and my confidence level relative to making the turnaround.  As a hugely successful entrepreneur, businessman, and corporate CEO, Jeff listened, sat back and said, “You’ve got all the right pieces. You’ve thought everything through.  Now you’ve got to lean in.”  This was the first time I had heard this phrase.  It certainly sounded good coming from Jeff but I needed to understand exactly what he meant by it, so I asked.

Leaning in, is about positive momentum.  If you’re on your heels self-doubt and second guessing quickly set in and you’ll surely fail.  You could have developed the best plans possible but failure will still visit you because you lacked conviction. Fear of failure causes us to lean back.  Failure makes us second guess ourselves and those around us.  It makes us focus on the wrong things.  When we lean back we’re looking for a way out, an excuse, someone to blame. We often get caught up in worrying about how others will perceive us should our plans not work out.  Fear that our personal reputation will be tarnished. And by leaning back we don’t fully commit.  We have one foot in and one out.  We’re the trapeze performer with a safety net under us.

In listening to me Jeff sensed I was leaning back.  He knew I had put a great deal of thought into the plan I developed.  He knew I identified the most probable risks and put plans in place to mitigate them.  But I was still leaning back.  He stressed the importance of leaning in.  He said, “Imagine you have no safety net under you.  What would you do?” And then he said the one thing that all great leaders don’t just say but demonstrate…he said, “Joe, I support everything you’re doing.”  Those words, backed-up by my faith and trust in him as a leader, gave me the added strength I needed to lean in.  To commit and not look back.

So when tough times arrive, or when everything seem to be going wrong, lean in.  Way in.  Imagine not having the safety net and that’s when you’ll realize that failure is not an option and you’ll make a bad situation into a good one. And most importantly find your “Jeff”.  A mentor is an absolute necessity to help you navigate the stormy waves of life.

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