We must be agile, you and I. Nifty, thrifty and happy to hustle.
My Grandpa said the internal combustion engine was the biggest change of his lifetime. When he was a boy ‘innovation’ was just a trick question in the spelling test. Now it’s a whole career. The change curve we live with means we don’t even know the biggest change we will witness because we don’t know what developments still await us.
Agility matters far less to roadies than it does to trail runners.
Those prominent square cats-eyes are predictably spaced on the white line in the middle of the gently curving road. This gives pavement pounders loads of time to ensure no one in the club bus trips. They can set direction like a large ocean-going cruise liner. When they find a piece of tyre on the roadside, they can talk for the next 10km about what a hazard that could have been.
Trails demand a whole new world of agility. We have to be more like a small inflatable boat than a big ship. Holes, rocks, and logs left by other people’s dogs abound. And the other people’s dogs bound around too. Dry paths become flowing streams overnight and must be jumped with short notice. Scan, decide, and pivot. Repeat. Accelerate. Jump. Duck. Stop. Drop down. Drive up.
There are two key dimensions to living an agile life, both as a trail runner and a person.
The first is having the ability to move and change direction and position quickly. Not always, not constantly, but almost immediately when required.
The second is to be controlled and stable while doing this instantaneous reacting. This helps to maintain overall orientation, and not look like a frenetic fool in the forest while flexing fast.
Perhaps you’re more patient than I am when it comes to recovering from injury. I’ve always been mildly irritated by the simple, repetitive drills from physios. But when I do get into the stair-hops, ladder-drills and lateral-lunges I’m always amazed at how it improves my agility.
I’ve also learned a lot from my business and personal clients about being nimble. I’ve worked with some incredibly courageous people who practice life-long learning by how they adapt. Instead of protesting, they change. Sometimes very fast and under tremendous pressure and even pain.
Almost all of the senior business leaders I coach begin each day not knowing what will be required of them. Other peoples' challenges and needs bound around like dogs in the forest. Well-intended routes set out in strategy meetings often become overgrown or too steep to climb. The ability to change direction and position is a skill that high functioning leaders have to develop and keep sharp.
But rapid adaptation is not enough. The flexing has to be based on something, be for something. This is where agility’s second part is key. Effective business leaders are deeply connected to what matters most to them and their business – values, purpose, and identity. This gives sense to the sometimes very rapid changes they make.
This is why many of my senior business clients use their coaching time to reconnect to themselves – what they really want and need, the assumptions they’re making and what they need to do differently. It’s like stair-hops, ladder-drills and lateral-lunges for leaders!
My personal clients have often been hurt by life. Significant loss and suffering force them to make choices about who they are and what they want. I’ve witnessed some very brave people look pain in the face and rescue the meaning of life instead of shying away from the challenge.
In these moments I’m always inspired by how they use their suffering as a purifying agent. They get a new sense of what really matters to them. Then they go after those things more fiercely and spend less of themselves on other ‘noises’. This is true for me too in my own experiences of bereavement, divorce, and unemployment.
I remember asking a client, “Don’t you ever stop and ask, ‘Why me?!’”
She had been an influential leader in her business sector. But now, having become more invisible with age and having hands crippled by arthritis, she spent her days inventing gadgets to open taps, get into and out of the bath and make tea.
She looked up at me sharply and I felt the gravity of her executive presence. “Why not me?” She replied. “Old people get overlooked most of the time and often get crippling arthritis.”
“What is needed here,” she continued, “is to make meaning by choosing what I want to do and then finding ways to do that.”
She then unveiled the most beautiful watercolour which she had been working on for three months. It was of a tree in city - surviving and thriving, bringing natural beauty into a demanding, unforgiving urban landscape. “It’s called ‘Leadership,’” she said.
My Grandpa thought the internal combustion engine was a big deal. I think the internal reflection engine is. Let’s use it to develop the attitude and behaviours that allow us to change position while keeping our orientation.