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CEOs: Learning from the chaos

Adaptability is a hard lesson to learn


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On a beautiful ski day recently, a buddy and I took a short hike to some outstanding terrain above a Copper Mountain lift. At a north-facing 12,300 feet, the snow stays soft and the face is steep, so not many folks go there.

Twelve turns into a great run, my tip dug into a bump, and I went ass over tea kettle. I heard a pop on the way over — my ski did not release, and I landed on my head. The results were a significant calf tear and a concussion. It was the end of my day, and my season.

I was supposed to leave for a ski trip three days later, and the physical pain put me in a gawd-awful spirit for a few days. But work beckoned, so I called United, arranged for a wheelchair and took my boot-encrusted leg, a cane and a backpack to the airport.

I’ve traveled much of my career, four to five days a week at one point, so I’m very orderly. Shortly into my wheelchair ride, I realized this would be different. The person pushing my wheelchair ignored my plea to go through the CLEAR line and the TSA PreCheck line, so I had to unpack my backpack and go through the body scanner for the first time in a while.

Then I was that guy slowing everyone down in the hallways. My morning routine changed (and lengthened) dramatically. My ability to conduct a meeting while sitting wasn’t as good as on my feet. My exercise regime went out the window.

You get the picture.

My situation is temporary. Many have far worse impairments and execute work and travel brilliantly. I wouldn’t wish any impairment on anyone, but this was (and continues to be — for a few months) an interesting learning opportunity.

In “12 Rules for Life,” Jordan Peterson says we need to live on the borderline between chaos and order. He’s right, but only if you want to learn. Order is more comfortable, but to see more of the world, you must push yourself toward a bit of chaos. I have a natural desire for order — I blame my German heritage. Chaos makes me anxious; I have to push myself to break my routine. However, putting myself into different environments is usually a growth experience.

Don’t go break a leg but take a different path for a few days, a harder one that you aren’t used to. Leave your phone at home. Eat lunch with a different crowd. Talk to a pissed off customer. Go help a loading dock worker. I bet you’ll learn a few things.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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