What Being a Ski Instructor Taught Me About Business

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What Being a Ski Instructor Taught Me About Business

Being a ski instructor is not the most glorifying job, nor is it one where you expect to learn some key lessons about business. But, during my time, in the 1980’s, working in New York City as a ski instructor, I soon realized that the same steps I went through to ensure a successful corporate ski outing, were the same actions and principles I needed to grow my business.

Here are the five business principles I learned from being a ski instructor:

1) You have to show up. The hardest part of business is just showing up. You have to show up to network, show up to meetings, and you expect your staff to show up to be ready and committed to work. As a ski instructor, I would meet corporate groups of up to 50 people. It was my responsibility to be there, to be present, to be ready to give them the instructions they needed to make the weekend successful. I couldn’t expect to get a good review or to meet my own professional milestones, if I didn’t first show up and commit myself to seeing my goal through.

2) You have to be in control. This can be a delicate area for business owners. There is a difference between taking control and being in control. If you take control, you stifle those around you from performing by micro-managing their every move. Instead, when you are in control, you are able to delegate work to others and keep everything organized, without having to restrict your employees’ every move. For the ski trips, I was in control. I established the rules and expectations for the trip, but I allowed the skiers to do their own thing within those parameters.

3) You have to be willing to start small. It is important to recognize that many times in business, you have to take your time and accomplish smaller tasks before you can tackle a larger goal. With skiing, for those who had never skied before, I had to ease them into it. I had to give them the exact directions they needed to follow and allow them time to use their new knowledge to master their new skill. If I had only given them the instructions and did not allow for that “trial and error” period for them to get meaning from the instructions, they would still not know what to do. Likewise, if I threw them on a black diamond slope without proper instructions, they would be doomed to fail (and get hurt). The key is to be willing to take things slow and enable your teams to experiment and learn from their mistakes along the way.

4) You have to take risks. With any new skill, there are times when you will not feel 100% comfortable with what you are doing. Even if my group had all of the expert ski tips in the world, they still would have to be willing to go outside of their comfort zone and try them out. The same is true in business. To grow your business, you will have to be open-minded enough to push the limits and challenge what you think is possible.

5) You have to be proactive. With new skiers I would teach them something “non-traditional”, I’d often spend some time showing them how to ski backward. Many ski instructors wouldn’t do this because it initially sounds counterintuitive. However, if you’ve ever skied, you soon realize that you often do end up backward, on the slope, going at a decent speed. When this happens, and you have not practiced what to do, you will panic. So, by taking a proactive approach and teaching the beginning skiers what to do when certain situations arose, they were both better prepared to handle the challenge and more confident in their abilities to perform.

These are just a few of many business principles I learned during my time as a ski instructor. Principles that I still take with me in how I interact with my teams and even in my personal relationships. This week, I encourage you to reflect and see where you can implement these principles in how you approach your business and your teams.

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