Firewalking Made Me a Better Leader

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Firewalking promised to revitalize my weary spirit. Instead, it made me a better leader.

My husband and I went to a seminar to learn how to walk on fire. The seminar was part of my plan to remember who I was.

I was working for a toxic boss. A man promoted by a top fifty Aerospace company from the Netherlands to run an organization in the United States.

He had no intention of staying in the United States longer than he needed to “punch his ticket,” he cared nothing about his plant, his staff or any other employees. His expected stay was eighteen months and not a day longer.

Working for him was exhausting. Since nothing mattered to him, all work was ‘ok.’ He set goals far below the capability of the organization to ensure his success. There were no stretch goals to help grow your skills. We had zero training to improve our expertise. He was making bets the team could easily cover.

Team successes were not celebrated, but neither were failures of any kind addressed. Everyone knew that he would give his entire team an average rating. This knowledge made everyone sink to the level he expected, including me.

If you were an employee who had been doing great, you wanted to succeed; you needed to escape before he could rate your performance average. Once the average rating was on your record, to be better than “the average bear” would require tremendous work on your part. Once you were given the “Scarlet Letter” of average, your prospects for advancement all but disappeared

It was double jeopardy because the new boss would rate you, then leave the country so he would never see you again. An ugly situation.

I had decided to change positions. I updated my resume and my thirty-second elevator speech that was all I believed I needed to “Get out of Dodge.” I did not understand how the flame in my soul was dimmed. When an opportunity became available, I could not display the internal flame of personality which could have “sealed the deal.” I couldn’t do it. (When your elevator speech is so bad you wouldn’t hire yourself, you need to do something different.)

I had stayed in the situation so long I was having trouble articulating how good I was at my job. Finding myself and reasserting my skills became a high priority goal for me. As Henry Ford once said: “If you believe you can or cannot, your right.” I had brought into the bosses’ everyone is average BS.

I needed to remember who I was. I was not a Senior Engineer for no reason. I understood how to design one of the most technologically advanced machines in the world and I was good at it.

The seminar focused on finding your center using your core beliefs. It forced you to remember the good and the bad about being you. The fact that there were a thousand other people in the room doing the same gave permission.

You had to remember who you were before the world got ahold of you and crushed your confidence.

Firewalking came at the end of a 10-hour session. Outside the seminar venue, there were long strips of glowing red, gray and black embers on the surface of the parking lot. African drumming that filled the air along with the aroma of burning wood. Light gray smoke rose from the embers swirling slowly, drifting high into the night sky. People were lining at one end of the long strips and calmly walking their length.

The actual firewalk was at the discretion of each person, fire walking like spicy food, is not for everyone. Some chose not the attempt walking on the 1,100-degree F. glowing embers. Each fire walks participant had to sign a waiver stating they were fire walking of their own free will and accept full responsibly if they suffered any injuries from the activity. The seminar leader issued two instructions before we started our firewalk. “Once you step onto the fire, Do Not Stop.” It’s called “Fire Walking” not “Fire Standing.” The second instruction was after you complete your firewalk, “Do Not Get Back In Line.” The last fire walker deserves glowing hot embers as much as the first. I gleefully signed my waver; I could hardly wait for my turn to do the impossible.

Each person removed their footwear and socks placing them near their lane before they began fire walk. No one wants to be walking around bare foot in a parking lot any longer than necessary.

People who had already completed the fire walk stood at the ends of the lanes of embers clapping cheering each person as they stepped off the embers and onto the parking lot pavement.

I got in line and waited my turn. I strolled down the glowing embers at the same speed I would walk to the mailbox. I was not in a hurry; this was why I came to the seminar, to do something I would have previously considered impossible.

After I completed my firewalk, I washed the soot off my feet, put on my shoes and waited for my husband who was also fire walking.

I felt incredible, empowered and enabled. The words I needed to use on my resume came flooding into my mind. I was ready to seek a new position.

The main take away of the fire walking experience: I could do impossible, I had rediscovered my superpower. I had found the path back.

When I returned to work, I still wanted to change positions, but something had changed within me. I stopped treating my team as if they were average. The bosses intentions no longer inhibited me.

Although my boss would most likely rate my team average, I went back to behaving like the positive person I was. I went back to doing my best. I treated my team as the best team in the building. I insisted that the team produce the best work we could.

The team responded by exceeding my expectations. We were working for our benefit and self-esteem, doing the best work because we were good at our jobs. I had attended a firewalking seminar because I wanted to become a more motivated person. I returned a better person and a better manager. A sense of “possibility” permeated my personality and was absorbed by my team.

We all benefited from the fire walking. Positive leadership makes a difference in everyone in the area. #iamafirewalker

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