Forget Your Fall-Back Position

Article by:
Angela Petro, EO Columbus
Angela Petro
EO Columbus

A few years ago, I attended a women’s ski clinic in Alta, Utah, USA. I came home a much better skier, but more importantly, I learned something valuable that I could apply to my professional life: When I’m out of my comfort zone, I immediately revert to my “fall-back position,” or the bad habit I most need to overcome.

When I was nervous on those 10,000-foot peaks, I would forget all of the good coaching I had just received. I would wind up contorting myself out of position, and then flail back down the mountain as if I had learned nothing. When I returned to my business, I realized what a perfect metaphor that was for my work life. When I feel overwhelmed, frustrated or out of my depth in real-life situations, I have the same tendency to forget the great coaching and flail away.

How many of us find ourselves in our fall-back positions when things get steep? It is easy to do, and over time you wind up growing comfortable with the default mode. The fall-back position that I struggle with the most is something I call “Abdication vs. Delegation.” The polar opposite of micromanagement, abdication is the result of my belief that once I task someone in my organization with a job, it will get done to my specifications and propagate itself within the entire company. Magically, everyone will sing the praises of this new policy or procedure and teach it forward. You can see where this is headed….

Over the years, my company has become a graveyard where good ideas go to die and better procedures become dormant. I’m learning that being a leader doesn’t just mean empowering people and then never following up. It means providing the tools and guidance they need to succeed and stepping in to hold them accountable when they don’t. Not only for the health of the company, but for the personal development of my team members. When I abdicate, I send the following messages:

  • I’m all talk, no walk, when it comes to instituting positive change in my organization.
  • My people don’t have to do what I ask because I won’t do anything about it.
  • I don’t value their time because I’m wasting it in the first place.

Clearly, these aren’t the messages that I want to send to my team. So when I’m on the verge of falling back into that bad habit of abdication, I pause to remember their negative effects, and I focus on the positive results that will come from well-executed delegation. By delegating, I’m learning just how far my staff can go and how much they’re able to contribute to the development of both my business and the team.

I live in Columbus, Ohio, USA, which means I don’t get to work on my skiing techniques as often as I would like. But as an entrepreneur, I do have countless opportunities to work on my leadership skills. I know I’ll never be the world’s most perfect business owner or a world-class skier, but being aware of what my fall-back positions are and what can trigger them is helping me get better at both. And as my ski instructor so kindly reminded me as she fished me out of a snow bank for the tenth time, “Hey, it didn’t kill you, and there’s nothing like the rush!”

Angela Petro (pictured) is the owner of Two Caterers, a fun company that is serious about food. Fun fact: Angela lived in Berchtesgaden, Germany, for 16 months when she was 20 years old, using her hotel job as a home base while she traveled throughout Europe and North Africa.

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