Being comfortable with extremes is an important part of leading effectively. While most of us choose to avoid excessive challenges, we can all tell stories of how that which did not kill us made us stronger. For leaders who don’t mind taking classes from the school of hard knocks, desert environments are excellent instructors.
Deserts are a perfect place to feel numbing cold and blistering heat in the same day, experience life in a place where rain hasn’t fallen for years and endless expanses of thorny, scratchy country conspire to shred travelers to pieces. Seasoned leaders are used to dealing with exceptional situations; part of their job is to maintain a consistent environment that will support the success of the team no matter what challenges arise. Whether they are enjoying good times or wandering in the darkness, leaders have to provide ongoing inspiration, vision and direction.
Leading expeditions in deserts highlights the value of persevering in tough environments. How is keeping morale up when everyone is thirsty and there is no water in sight like maintaining employee engagement? When the team is facing an endless expanse of rock and cactus (tough sales landscape), how do we stay focused? We have collected ten of our favorite lessons from the desert to demonstrate the importance of wild and challenging landscapes in the development of our leadership skill set.
- Looks Can Be Deceiving: Deserts look stark and pokey, but there is so much more to see if we look closely. Deserts require suitors to look beyond first impressions and believe that what they desire is there somewhere. This is true of so many things; if we stop at first glance, we will surely miss out.
- Small Things Bring Great Happiness: Anyone who spends time in the desert will very likely find themselves obsessed with water. It quickly becomes clear that just a shallow dish collecting below a slowly dripping spring is enough to produce tears of joy. What else in life is like this?
- Know What You are NOT: Deserts are defined by what they lack (water). It turns out that we can find more space in our lives by declaring what we are not. Use a not-to-do list as a way to define your time according to what you are not doing and open up space for other things.
- Let Energy Lead the Way: Walking around in mid-day desert heat is a lonely exercise. That is because all desert life knows that it is exponentially harder to try and get things done during the hottest part of the day. Desert critters are crepuscular; they come out in the cool of the dawn and dusk to take care of business. We each have our own rhythms, we just have to listen to them and plan accordingly.
- Sunrise and Sunset are Amazing: Hitting the pause button twice a day to enjoy sunrises and sunsets is an easy way to connect with nature (lowers stress, provides inspiration) and take a moment to unplug from the world of distractions. Worth checking out.
- Beware of Small Things: A friend of mine said he preferred the hazards of Alaska to those of the Sonoran Desert. What he meant was that grizzly bears, avalanches, storms and raging rivers are generally easy to identify just before they kick your butt. In the desert, tiny scorpions, snakes and creepy crawlies are sneakily plotting your demise. Besides acknowledging the big forces at work, we have to maintain an awareness of the little ways we can make our lives better (or worse).
- Challenges Lead to Breakthrough Moments: Anyone who has felt the blunt force of the desert’s scorching heat knows that at a certain point, this hotness is better described in pounds per square inch than in degrees. Enduring those conditions can lead to breakthrough thought since surviving requires creative, new ways of dealing.
- Nighttime is the Right Time: Like sprinters, many of us race through the day and collapse at the end. In the desert, when the “Death Star” finally drops below the horizon, it’s time to enjoy. Evenings are a great time to rejuvenate as long as we permit ourselves the space to do so. Put away the devices, stop working, end the racing and enjoy time for yourself.
- Drink Water: Water is the key to life, but rarely do we drink enough. Dehydration leads to fatigue, headaches, impatience and muscle soreness. Add to this that what we DO drink is often high in sugar, caffeine, alcohol and other unpleasantries and we end up in a pickle. Drink water, at least two liters a day is the minimum recommended, but more is probably better.
- Go Slow: The pace of desert life is extremely slow, though everything still gets done. We are so busy rushing around all the time, it can be a good experiment to just slow down. Chances are the to-do list will still get done, just without all the chaos.
What challenging landscapes have given you inspiration as a leader? How often do you visit those places? What do you do with your team to make sure they are supported, even when the going is extremely difficult? Please share your ideas with us and we’ll spread the word.