We’ve all done it once, right? Jump off a cliff into some icy blue water below? Either we did it at some summer camp or at a water park or because you lived near the Grand Canyon (or somewhere country).
The most memorable cliff jumping that I’ve ever experienced was when I spent some time in Sarajevo, Bosnia more than 9 years ago – I can’t remember exactly where we were but my friends and I found ourselves jumping off cliffs into the Mediterranean Sea. You want to talk about picturesque? It was gorgeous.
We eventually found a perfect ledge to heave our young bodies into the wide open air and land in the warm ocean below. I must have done it 20 times – but that was after considering the value of my own life for nearly an hour.
I was reminded of an interesting leadership principle recently about how we, as simple minded and fearful creatures, cope, endure, and engage with challenges. What is the very first thing that one does when they encounter a large cliff with the intention of jumping off of it?
Simple: They find someone who’s done it before.
But we have to be more specific. You see, my friends and I watched as the natives would do back flips, forward flips, and twist and turn in what seemed to be 5 or 6 times before perfectly entering the water with barely a blip. The natives weren’t in the least bit helpful; not because they couldn’t communicate with us but because jumping god-knows-how-far into the water below was as easy as breathing for them.
What we were looking for was someone who had recently done it and who’s experience was something similar to what we anticipated that we would experience. In other words, we were looking for other possible tourists who had gathered enough courage to jump and live to tell the tale.
It wasn’t that what we were attempting to do was impossible – that was plainly false as these natives Bosnians were kicking serious tale and having a blast. It was that our fear of the unknown and the risk of bodily harm were locking our feet to the ground.
And we’ve been playing this dance for years. Remember when you were young? Have you recently seen your own children do this at the playground? Watch the children and they’ll show you (and you may even overhear it):
Pssst. Hey… did you… did you… did you jump? … … … … How was it? … … … … How’d you do it?
As children we do this so easily – we find comfort and find resolution in the process of asking for advice and help. As grownups this natural and good tendency has been somehow beaten out of us as we desperately want to continue to assert our independence and our own ability to cope, to manage, to survive.
We simply have learned to go alone and we’ve been told it’s better that way. It’s the higher path. Don’t cave. Be independently bold. Don’t ask for help. You got it.
We were lucky that day as we overcame our insecurities and found some other non-natives who had braved the jump. We didn’t even have to inquire much as the look on their faces told us that we had to do it as well.
We asked for a few logistics though (like where to jump first so as not to have your body catch the pure rock on the way down) and how they had progressed to the upper levels of the rock and we did it. We jumped.
The point is that leadership is less like the what we’ve been often told – going bravely first alone into the unknown and living to tell the tale. Instead, I’ve found a much more qualitative and effective form of leadership of finding help from those that have done it before and then going boldly forward with others in partnership.
Leadership in isolation isn’t noble – it’s stupid. It’s costly. And you’ll probably break your leg or even kill yourself on the way down.
Next time you want to “boldly go where no one has gone before” you should instead start by asking if someone has any directions.