cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Aaron Smith

As a runner, there is a time when you are running known as “hitting the wall”.  According to TheFreeDictionary.com this expression means “if you hit the wall when you are trying to achieve something, you reach a situation where you cannot make any more progress”.  When I’m running–it is that moment when I believe I cannot take another step or my lungs will explode and my body will not support my weight.  Interestingly I have found that most of the time I can take another step.  And one after that.  I have to will my body beyond that wall to finish the run.  There are other days when I “hit the wall” and I decide to stop and take a break and then run again.  On rare occasions I “hit the wall”, remember I no longer run competitively, and I toss in the towel and walk home.  It reminds me of the song by Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler” in which he sings:

“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.”

What do you do when you hit the wall in your organization?

This happened to me this week.  I had been working on a project and was in the final phase of creating benchmarks to implementation when a key player backed out on the project.  I was devastated and quickly spiraled into feelings of anger and rage at the key player that backed out.  At some point I realized that no matter how justified I may have been in my anger that player was not returning to the game.  I then turned to feelings of hopelessness for how to complete the project in front of me.  I had hit the wall and didn’t see a way out.

I had choices to make.  I could give up and walk away (not a likely choice for me ever as I don’t give up!) or start brainstorming what I could do to tackle this project a different way.

During my predawn musings just that day, I read an article about seeing the forest through the trees.  In that article the author laid out a process for evaluating problems.  Using this process, the author is able to step back and reevaluate the problem.  (Situation, Complication, Question and Answer–you really should read the article!)  Taking the time to walk through these steps helped me to find three alternate solutions, search out complications for each one, and then find questions that needed answers.  What just minutes ago had seemed hopeless now had alternate plans that I could research further.

At other moments when I have hit the wall I find that reaching out to mentors or colleagues typically provides me with ideas that I could not have generated on my own.  It is interesting to find that many top-level leaders mentor other people, but do not have mentors themselves.  Having experienced the benefits of both mentoring and being mentored, I was committed to finding a mentor for myself as a superintendent.  If you don’t have this type of relationship in your professional life–find someone you admire and respect and ask them if they’d be willing to mentor you!  A mentor can help you move beyond the wall you are facing.

Who is on your team?  Who is in your corner cheering you on?  To whom can you turn to when you have lost all hope and have an insurmountable wall facing you?  I believe we are meant to live in community–and that means welcoming people onto your team when you need help.  You don’t have to face the wall alone.

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