top of page

Leadership lessons from mountain streams

Hiking in a valley that's over 10,000 feet above sea level offers some stunning views and breathtaking wildflowers. However, when there's a stream to cross, it's so frigid one can't help but yelp out in discomfort!

That's what happened to us on a hike last summer. My daughter gingerly dipped her toes in, then screamed about how cold it was. The discomfort of stepping into ice-cold

water shots through your body with fervor. But it doesn't last forever. Within less than a minute, she had acclimated to the cold temperatures of the water and proceeded to play, unbothered by the chill.

This is a great metaphor for being a lifelong learner and leader.

To truly learn and co-create requires moving into discomfort. Yes, most of us instinctively shy away from it. So, when we experience the jolt discomfort creates, we are inclined to shift back to the comfort of the familiar. When we do, we maintain the status quo.

Leaders who effectively navigate the tension of discomfort are the most successful at turning their vision into reality. In fact, they anticipate discomfort. And when it does arrive, they know how to lean in.

What helps leaders lean in to the discomfort is the knowledge it doesn't last forever. And an awareness that discomfort is an expected part of the process. It can actually be a signal of progress well made, not a bad omen as we tend to think of it.

Over the years, I have trained myself to first acknowledge discomfort. Then to check in and determine if what I'm experiencing necessitates alarm. If my discomfort isn't a sign of impending doom (which it very rarely is), I strive to celebrate it as a signal of progress.

Oftentimes, I need to take to the pages of my journal to do this work and process my feelings of discomfort. As I write, I'll ask myself questions like - What's bothering me about this? What's really going on here? What about this moment could I celebrate? How will I proceed from here?

Journaling helps me acclimate to the discomfort. It's a way to lean in. I'm neither ignoring, nor giving into my initial impulses. I'm acknowledging the struggle while committing to make forward progress.

There's inevitably an awkward phase when acquiring a new skill or embracing a challenge. We become aware of what we don't know. Or we realize doing the work is harder than we anticipated. Or we experience the general fatigue of not having exercised these muscles (literally and figuratively) before.

During such moments we have a choice. Keep going or turn back. The only way to turn bold a vision into reality is to stay committed, to do the work despite the discomfort and keep moving forward.

After all, we only reached our destination by walking through the frigid mountain stream last summer. Once my daughter acclimated to the cold temperature, the bigger challenge was getting her to continue hiking and stop searching for an assortment of water-worn rocks (which I later cleaned out of her pockets before doing laundry).

Ready to make forward progress on your vision? Save the date, 9/14, for the next Journal Jam and give yourself the gift of clarifying your own thinking and needs.

23 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All


Heather Chavin
Heather Chavin

I think I read from Brene Brown somewhere that when she paused to really sit with the discomfort, she found it lasted about 8 seconds. I like to remember that.

I feel like that doesn't apply to every case...but what does apply is that FACING it consciously makes the discomfort a very different experience. So heck yes to journaling or just sitting with it and taking a few breaths to remember the big juicy WHY behind it all.

bottom of page