Original Spanish version published in El Comercio newspaper (Peru) on March 4, 2017
As a young girl, I was very scared of irrigation canals. Someone had told me: “If you get too close to one, the Black Hand will pull you in”. So, I never went near one –though I did check them out from a distance, in case I saw the dreaded Black Hand. My cousins knew the story and my fear was always the object of affectionate teasing on family trips to the country.
Until one day, when I had to face my fear. My cousins gave me instructions for my first jump over a canal: “Don’t look down”. Of course, I jumped without taking my eyes off the water to try to avoid the dreaded tug. I nearly fell into the canal (fortunately, the Black Hand did not get me). On the next try, they suggested that I look across to the other side, which I did and achieved my goal (just barely). At that moment, our parents called us back for lunch. We raced to the barbecue, hungry and happy.
Only when we got back did I realize that I had jumped over the canal. I had done it without even noticing! Looking ahead to the promise of a delicious meal, the canal stopped being a threat. That day the Black Hand died for me, and though I do not miss it, it taught me a great lesson.
What did I learn? That changing how we look at things is key to putting them in perspective and changing the context of a situation. For example, if we set our sights on something that inspires us, something we are passionate about or motivated to achieve, today’s difficulties become less important or limiting. We recognize them as a natural part of the path to that destination we so desire. And that way we are empowered and grow when faced with challenges.
As leaders –which we all are in one way or another, as coaches or parents– we often have to help our loved ones to change what they focus on, shift it away from the apparently “impossible” problem of today towards the desired outcome. But they must be able to “see” that goal clearly. For example, in my work, if someone is worried about getting a job or increasing their level of employability, we help them to move their focus away from the time it will take to get a new job, to the result of finding their dream job, which hopefully will also pay more and provide more opportunities for growth.
Another related metaphor is that of leading a group of people lost in the desert. We cannot help them by focusing their attention on the difficulties they will face –the debilitating heat, the scorching sun, the relentless thirst, or the burning sand. Instead, we can help them set their sights on how incredible it will be when they reach the oasis, drinking cool water under the shade of palm trees, eating delicious dates, and maybe taking a dip in the cool waters of the oasis pool. The motivation we get from envisioning these things helps to give us the strength we did not know we had and inspires us to keep moving forward, not giving up or giving in to confusing or paralyzing uncertainty.
We have seen that leading involves helping others change their perspective to something that inspires them and motivates them to keep moving forward.