Leading in the Giant Slalom; Answers to Winning the Challenges of Organizational Leadership

For much of the past month, the recently concluded Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia was my standing evening entertainment. Every night seemed to bring new feelings of excitement, joy, and pathos as great victories and near-victories, desperate losses, and human drama combined in a blur of athletic amazement. There were so many events, most in sports I have little familiarity with, that I sometimes felt swept away in the swirl. And as an organizational thinker, I believe there are some strong lessons we can derive from the games themselves.

One Olympic event this year really stood out for me. American skier Ted Ligety captured the gold medal in Men's Giant Slalom skiing. On balance, I really appreciate the Giant Slalom as an Olympic event. To me, it is the perfect combination of speed, power, grace, and precision; all in under 2 minutes flying down a mountain.

Of course, besides the Giant Slalom, there are many other types of alpine skiing events – Downhill and Slalom included. In Downhill, you have just immense speed because skiers are basically falling down the mountain straight-lined. That reality is powerful, raw, and breathtaking. On the other hand, there is the Slalom event. The Slalom is full of turns - much slower - but with the requirement for constant adjustments and precision. Both Downhill and Slalom are tremendous events. The Slalom has speeds of about 25 to 35 miles an hour, constantly turning, at the Olympic level. The Downhill sometimes hits speeds of over 90 miles an hour down the mountain!

But I like the Giant Slalom best because you have to make turns like the Slalom and you have the speeds approaching the Downhill - 65 miles an hour or so. To be successful, you have to make clear split-second decisions and act on them for conditions that are 40 to 50 yards in front of you. When a skier is hurtling down a Giant Slalom course, they literally have to get into their turns and make instantaneous decisions for what they see 50 yards away. If they don't make that decision instantly, they will be in trouble 50 yards from now, probably miss a critical gate, and be out of the race.

And that's often a reality of organizational leadership as well. It is often like the Giant Slalom where you have to both navigate full speed, and maintain the agility that is inherent in responding to critical challenges. You can't just barrel down the mountain like in the Downhill – making no turns – and expect to win. But you can't always make every little decision slowly and meticulously like in the Slalom. You have to be able to make radical, speedy choices as the situation dictates by looking further down the road than you might be used to.

Perhaps you're faced with challenges that are racing towards you at breakneck speed. Perhaps you've already missed a couple of gates and you think you're out of the race. But take heart – life isn't like a Giant Slalom race final – you do have more chances to respond and get back in it. Believe that God is at work in you, and in your organization. Proverbs 3:5,6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take."

Remember to keep looking forward, down the course ahead; just like a Giant Slalom skier. Don't let the mistakes of the past paralyze you. Commit to visualizing the bright future God intends for you and your organization, where you first commit to His will, and make whatever necessary adjustments are needed face the challenges. Then you can be assured that He is making your path straight.

Dr. Carl Moeller is a consultant at Sequoia Global Resources, retained search executive at FaithSearch Partners, and author of The Privilege of Persecution (Moody Press, 2011). Moeller's diverse background, education, and global experience provide him with unique perspectives on life, leadership and faith. You can find out more at

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