Jump with you

“There is inspiration all around us, if we pause to sense it and draw from it”, teased John looking at Joshua and drawing a deep breath of the cool evening air. As the golden orange light of the setting sun flooded the valley and the slopes of the mountain that they called the blue hammer, the two men paused on their way back to their lodging on the hill-top to soak up the majestic view yet another time. “The scene here is stunning, the rugged mountains clad on one side with fresh October snow and the serene lake spread in between…I agree John”, replied Joshua, “…but I still don’t understand what are we doing here and you have kept me in suspense for the past few days, could you open up now”, he demanded. “I will Josh, let’s first see what is Ginny up to”, he said. As the two men trodded up the muddy winding path, John recollected the conversation with Joshua a week ago.

It was one of those days when Joshua needed consultation from his colleague and best friend John over something that was bothering him at work. Both of them held senior roles in a large organization that manufactured industrial equipment.

“Overseeing yet another transformation, I sometimes feel these ‘transformative’ changes have to stop and let us breathe. We will kill ourselves with these constant changes, the guys sitting in that corner office should plan better…”, Joshua walked in visibly frustrated. “Good change never killed anybody pal. How is the new set up coming along? have a seat”, John welcomed his friend in his office.

“In summary – its a personal mess. I was doing well in Research and now taking over this bigger team with all these new people. People management is not my thing as you know John”, said Joshua. “Told you before, don’t fret over the term “people management” too much, focus instead on your own conviction in the purpose that you are trying to drive and how well you communicate it”, John smiled. “Easy for you to say that John, with your experience with people, I on the other hand have been dealing with machines more. Upgrading the assembly line with these new machines I thought would be a cake walk, I have done these things before, but this one is way bigger…”, Joshua continued to express the challenges with the change management involved in the huge program that he was overseeing, “…contracting issues, thanks for your timely help there by the way, procedure compliance, quality checks, compatibility, safety, new data specifications & protocols…I can go on…”, Joshua paused to take a sip of tea offered by John. “…and you have a highly qualified team that knows most of this stuff, don’t you? what really is troubling you my friend?”, John gazed intently at Joshua.

“I can’t put my finger on it, most of these guys are Phds from top schools and very strong individuals. We are moving stuff forward, it is a long program, but I don’t get a sense that it is coming together. I wish people could just trust me more…”, said Josh, “I don’t get the sense of having genuine conversations & over seeing trustworthy plans John, we might or might not deliver and this is a big deal for our company’s success!”, he completed.

“You need a break Josh, you’ve been working too hard, how’s Ginny doing?”, John tried to change the subject. “She is ok, we haven’t had an adventure in some time now”, replied Joshua. “Let’s take a short trip next week Josh, along with Ginny. I want you to meet someone, and it might answer some of your questions”.

“Uncle John, you promised me a surprise when we started, but it is boring here. I want to get back home”, the 12 year old Ginny was sitting in the sofa along with her nanny in the hotel lobby. Ginny had a minor leg deformity by birth limiting her ability to run or take to active sports. “Tomorrow Ginny, you have to trust me on this one…”, smiled John, “…tomorrow Josh”, he winked.

“Ask for Paul Ammerby when you get to the place and tell me everything when you get back, every minute detail Josh. Have fun Ginny”, said John as he placed a card in the hands of Josh that read Skysport with it’s address. “Are you out of your mind John? You know Ginny’s situation, is this what you brought us all this way for?”, Josh screamed softly turning his back to Ginny. “Ask for Paul, and trust your friend buddy, she will have fun, she is stronger than you think”, said John as he firmly nudged Josh back into the car, “remember to tell me everything when you get back, what you see and what you hear”.

“Paul is on his way, please be seated inside”, said Larry who seemed to be the one running the place. Ginny and Joshua sat in a sofa and surveyed the room. There was an equipment hanging from the ceiling that looked like training gear for sky divers, a large television set, a couple of tables and a coffee maker. “I am very scared papa, do you think I can do this…”, Ginny asked Joshua as he finally explained uncle John’s grand plan to her – “Uncle John wants you to do tandem jump Ginny with a person by name Paul”, he forced a smile. “But I am scared…”, she started to say when a man walked in with a broad smile that seemed to light up the gloomy looking room. “…so was I when I took my first jump, but by the time I prepared myself to jump, I got very excited and now I have been jumping for the past 20 years”, he said as he introduced himself and shook hands, “Hi! I am Paul and I jump off the cliffs with others for my living”, he laughed.

“Is it dangerous? What if we die?”, asked Ginny. “It is possible that sometimes the weather is rough, but then today is not the day, it looks beautiful and perfect, you will be safe”, he said, “I know every inch of these mountains, they are my friends”. Joshua took Paul aside and tried to explain the situation with Ginny. “If she can trot a little bit, we are good, can you run a little bit Ginny?”, he asked. “No…”, Joshua tried to say, but “Yes I can run a bit”, Ginny cut in. “Are you sure you want to do this?”, Josh asked. “I want to try papa, I don’t know”, she replied anxiously.

“I am a trainer Mr. Joshua, it is a journey to get here. First you got to get your license to paraglide on your own which takes 50 supervised independent flights and then several more to become a tandem jumper & a trainer”, Paul explained. “There are several aspects to a great flight, the wind direction, weather conditions and so on and we keep a track of them before we fly. But more than anything else, it is the attitude of the flyer. It is important to have fun. This is what I tell my students too. It can be quite challenging to teach them sometimes, it is important that they gain confidence quickly. But ‘no one has ever learned anything from an angry teacher, did they?‘ so I never lose patience, although if I am serious about someone not paying attention, I let them know”, he continued.

“Here let me show you some fun photos of how we create memories for life”, he said as he showed several photos & videos bursting with life & excitement to Joshua and Ginny. “The view from up there is fantastic”, he said. “You have to let me spend a few minutes with Ginny before I drive her up the cliff, you could wait down here and wave at us as we land, and capture some nice photos”, Paul said dancing around the place gathering the gear needed and whistling in between. “What makes him so lively & happy”, Joshua thought to himself. “I love my job, and I love the place, that’s why we settled here”, said Paul as if he overheard the thoughts of Josh, “…most importantly I love my family very much Josh and I want to go back home alive everyday for them, have no fear, your daughter is safe”, he continued to smile.

“Ginny, let me check, you have good shoes, you have warm clothes, yes, good shades, gloves, let me get you a helmet”, he rushed in and brought back a helmet, “this should fit you well, comfy? yeah, great, let’s go”. “What if I fall down Paul?”, asked Ginny as they drove up the cliff. “Then I fall with you Ginny, the equipment I have will tie us both together, but we will not fall, I fly 5 times every day and been flying for the last…”, “20 years”, Ginny completed with a smile. “That’s right!”.

As they reached the top of the hill, Paul carefully studied the wind direction as he prepared Ginny and tethered her into the seat that connected to his and to the paraglide. “You see that slope, we will run this way along the slope, when I tell you to run, you start running and I will run along with you, good? oh boy, what a beautiful and bright day, we will zoom over that lake and land right in front of the place where we started Ginny. Its time to show your dad how brave you are!”, his smile was infectious and very assuring. “Can I scream if I get scared?”, Ginny asked innocently remembering her father’s words -‘be brave and don’t scare Paul too much’. “Yeaaah, you can scream and I will too, that’s part of the fun, now the wind is coming right at us, time to get ready Ginny, here we go, one, two, three…start walking….very good, a little faster, awesome, I am right behind you, you are doing great, little bit faster, woooohoooo aaaaaand we are flying…”

Ginny recounted her entire flight experience to John when they got back. “I never screamed so much in my life before, and Paul screamed along, it was so much fun. At first I was very scared, but he was with me all along before the flight, smiling and encouraging and when he asked me to run down the slope, I was just focused on running. No one asks me to run much and I felt happy, and before I knew, I was lifted….woooooohooooo….and we screamed”, Ginny was unstoppable and she ran around the hotel lobby reliving her experience with her arms wide open. “Paul showed me around the big mountain, and then we zommed over the small one, and then over the lake, and then I saw some birds flying close by, he even let me manage the lines for few minutes…and when we landed everyone was clapping and taking pictures, they made me feel special, and dad was so happy too”.

“When I grow older, I want to learn paragliding papa and I am going back to fly again tomorrow, Paul is great…”. “Right Ginny, time to get you some dinner”, her nanny took her away.

“What is this all about John? It is slowly dawning on me, but help me understand, it’s your turn to speak now”, pressed Joshua. “Elements of trust and turning fear into excitement my friend. Paul spent may be less than 20 minutes to convince a girl with difficulty in running to jump off a cliff! Isn’t that magical? What did you observe and what do you remember? It’s your turn truly, not mine”, smiled John.

“I remember the smile more than anything else. As if it is plastered on his face forever, makes him feel so reassuring the moment someone looks at him”, said Joshua. “Approachability Josh, when you want to commit your team to jump off the cliff for you, nah, with you, the first thing they should feel is comfort being tethered to you in the first place”, John spoke gently. Josha moved uncomfortably in place, but eventually smiled. “I get it, let me continue. And then the other thing I remember is how much he is vested in this sport, his life depends on him doing it well and his life depends on it in getting him back home. He is fully into it, no two thoughts and he didn’t mince words mentioning it”, said Joshua. “Conviction Josh, if your team doesn’t trust that you are fully convinced and committed about what you want them to do, it will never work. Your personal conviction as a leader is the foundation”, John reflected.

“I see where you are taking me with this John and I am beginning to understand. Paul then showed us pictures and videos of his previous jumps and that started getting Ginny excited, he spoke about what does it take to do what he is doing…”, Joshua said. “Establishing credibility and visibly establishing trust. More importantly making a personal connection with the team and engaging in a dialogue”, inferred John. “But transformations are new, and there is no past experience John, how do you establish credibility then?”, asked Joshua. “By giving your team the feeling of flexibility and openness, that we can do it together and with the collective experience, we can learn together”.

“It was great to see how Paul was making Ginny feel that it is very common to jump off the cliffs, ‘I do it every day with a lot of people’. And how he was taking every question from Ginny very seriously, even the ones which were very naive for a 12 year old, but given her condition”, recollected Joshua. “Bravo! I like your sincerity in capturing these my friend. What you just narrated is much stronger than the tether that kept Ginny’s and Paul’s seats together – respect. Paul ensured that he made Ginny feel that he understood her and responded to every single question as plainly as possible. This is important to bring your team close to you Josh”, said John.

“And we heard the rest of the story from Ginny. ‘What if I fall?’, ‘I fall along with you, but I haven’t had a fall in 20 years'”, recollected Joshua. “At the end of the experience, when you hear Ginny, it is all about what she went through, what she has seen, what she has experienced, see how Paul doesn’t come in the way of her experience, but guides her to have fun as much as possible. She never for once felt that she was differently abled, did she?”, smiled John. “Nope, not for a moment. Feels like I have taken the flight as much as Ginny. 1. Turn fear into excitement, 2. Show conviction, 3. Establish trust, 4. Encourage openness & willingness for joint learning, 5. Respect, 6. Create experiences and 7. Get out of the way”, summarized Joshua as he wrote them down for his reference. “Well, sometimes you are in the driving seat and sometimes you got to let your team do the driving Josh. That’s what makes the tandem jumping in our roles even more exciting. And there might be several more things that you will uncover. Replacing an entire assembly line is not the same as a 20 min tandem flight, but I know that if someone can do it, it is my dearest friend Joshua”, said John as he patted Joshua.

18 comments

  1. Scintising and inspiring narration ! Was living in the moment throughout …. Kudos for making most complex matter of contention so simplistic πŸ™‚ … Keep Surprising & Inspiring Phani ! πŸ˜ŽπŸ‘

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  2. Great Narration!!!
    It would not have been possible without that push to try new things. If we have that guidance we need not fear to take new challenges and embrace them in our life.

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  3. Excellent Narration Phani…your every blog is unique and can be easily related to all characters we meet innour day to day life,work…. Kudos

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  4. Great Story Phani! Most importantly it explains how trust can be built in a team . It is not magical nor rocket science. It is always basics like showing empathy, trust, transparency, openness..

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  5. Well-written post, Phani! The seven steps form a good tool-set that one can use while working with teams (new or old!).

    Loved this part: β€˜no one has ever learned anything from an angry teacher, did they?β€˜ — the teacher should try and maintain his/her composure at all times!

    John spoke less and allowed Joshua to arrive at (derive?) most of the observations on his own, which would definitely stay with Joshua for much longer, than if John had spoon-fed the observations to Joshua.

    Only ‘gripe’ – if I may call it that – is that the analogy would’ve been more convincing had it been a sport where Paul had failed, gotten up, brushed the dust and grime off himself, and soldiered on… which, in paragliding or bungee jumping or such activities, isn’t an option… πŸ™‚

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  6. Thought provoking and inspiring story with many useful lessons. Specially liked the narration and the attention to details. Well-crafted characters who played an important role in creating the excitement as a reader and in the end the message is worth remembering.
    Applying it requires high levels of self-motivation and great practice.

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  7. You did what you do best. Its a wonderful comeback after a long break.

    The narration drifted me to wear Paul’s hat but soon enough I realised that we all play both Paul and Ginny every day. The magic is when we understand both sides of the story.

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  8. Influencing.. :)… It takes a great deal to hit someone’s belief system and it can’t be done without the elements you described.. good one..

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