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Leadership lessons from 13,000 feet

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I recently stepped out of an airplane from 13,000 feet, connected to a man named Chuck.

The story began in March when my fabulous husband asked me, “What do you want to do to celebrate your 40th birthday?” To his surprise and amusement, I said, “Jump out of an airplane.” This is coming from the person who just last year conquered her fear of riding a bike by pedaling over the Golden Gate Bridge.

So on a Saturday afternoon, we hopped in the car and headed to Skydive Orange in Orange, Va., to “fly” (as the pros would say). It was a gorgeous day with blue skies, thin white clouds, and light winds. We waited our turn, and I was filled with a mix of smiles and awes as I watched the sky above me fill up with bright colored parachutes that made their way swiftly and softly to ground.

“Kelly Lewis … Glenn Lewis”, we heard from inside the hangar. “You are up next.”  Off we went to get suited up, and 20 minutes later, I was walking toward an airplane with Chuck, my husband, and 20 or so other folks who also decided to fly that day. And fly we did.

Chuck and I were the last two to exit the plane. As we shimmied toward the edge of the cargo door, I leaned back and we stepped. Within seven seconds he was tapping me on the shoulder to give me the sign that I could move my hands from safety position to flying position. We flew at 125 miles per hour for 60 seconds and then pulled the chord. A feeling stillness and peacefulness blanketed us and I could see forever. Chuck handed me the steering wheel and said, “Want to have some fun?” I accepted his invitation and guided us around the skies with his assistance. Seven minutes later, we were on the ground right back where we started.

That day was amazing beyond my wildest imagination and didn’t come close to my worst fears. It also taught me a few valuable leadership and life lessons:

  • Lean into the fear. Do what you want to do, even if it makes you go “gulp.” It is better than we could imagine and never as worse as we fear it to be.
  • Rest back into the support. Whether we can see it or feel it we are surrounded by support. The challenge is to trust and receive it.
  • Take a step.  Sometimes the results we are trying to create only require a step. I had this image in my mind that day that I was going to have to jump or leap out of the plane. All we did was step.  And with one small step, the results were huge.
  • Be real.  One small step often requires a great deal of courage, vulnerability and trust. I believe our world needs more of this — and less of the fear-based approach. Authentic leadership and meaningful living require all three.
  • Be connected, not attached. When we connect, we are joined or linked together, understanding where we end and others begin. We are clear about what we have in common and how we are different. When we are attached, it is harder to be objective, to consider other points of view. That day Chuck and I were “one,” and the distinction between being connected and being attached became clear.

In the week since this amazing experience, I was noticing a newfound respect (and a little envy) every time I look up into the sky to see a bird spread its wings and fly. Next, I am going to practice giving myself and others what we need to spread our wings and fly. And I invite you to fly with us.

Kelly Lewis is the founder and managing partner of The Bounce Collective, a leadership development organization committed to creating meaningful experiences for leaders to develop while bringing communities together.  Lewis is a recent recipient of  Workforce Management’s Game Changer Award and was featured on an episode of Voice America’s “Visionary Leader, Extraordinary Life.”  Visit Bounce on Facebook.