The ability to ‘embrace limitations’ is a useful skill for leaders to possess.

Being able to view restrictions with a positive mindset  is an absolute must in the ever changing, complex corporate world. But sometimes, we are thrown a multitude of curve balls all at the same time, which can present limitations that can be challenging to deal with, let alone ’embrace’.

This week, I had a somewhat simple and personal experience which nevertheless reminded me of the value of embracing limitations.  What began as the “week from hell” evolved into a meaningful opportunity, for which I am now extremely grateful for.

On Monday not one, but two of my children became sick at the same time.  With my husband away, a multitude of coaching sessions booked, a trip to Wellington planned and two leadership workshops to prepare for, it was not the best of timing to say the least.  To cap it all off, IT issues caused major havoc.

In the first instance, rather than working with “what is”, I let the situation get the better of me.  When I unleashed my unfortunate disposition upon the innocent check out girl at the supermarket after a polite “how are you today?”, I realised I needed to reevaluate my attitude.  The poor girl looked like a stunned mullet!

The reality is, life doesn’t always go as we want it to.  Sometimes it is plain sailing, and at other times we have to navigate stormy waters.

Fortuitously, the following TED talk came across my desk on Monday afternoon.

Artist Phil Hansen speaks of when he developed an unruly “shake” in his hand while at art school. Hansen was devastated, until a neurologist suggested he try embracing this limitation.  Phil ’embraced the shake’ and went on to become a successful artist, and now teaches others how to embrace their limitations in order to achieve great (and new) heights.

As the old adage goes, it’s not what happens that counts, it’s how you respond.  Or, as my Dad, an avid yachtie says, “you cannot direct the wind, but you can always trim the sail.”

So here’s what I did.  I decided to first accept and then allow myself permission to know that this week, I was not going to be the productive super machine I usually aim to be at work.  It seems so simple in retrospect, but merely accepting the situation for what it was, helped immensely.  I said to my judgemental, task master self – “just relax sister, give in to the situation!”

Next, I allowed myself to embrace it.  I accepted I wouldn’t get much work done, and thought about what possibilities might arise from the situation instead.  Suddenly, I realised if you remove one thing, you make room for another. 

As soon as I removed unrealistic outcomes from my repertoire, an array of opportunities became clear – spending time with my son and daughter, playing board games, doing nothing on the couch and even leaning in to my role as a nurturing mother caring for her sick children. One of the surprising and unexpected benefits of this was how I connected with some of my fondest memories of my own mother looking after me when I too had the chicken pox.

Next I accepted the incredibly generous offer by my husband to share the load (rather than be the martyr).  Lesson: accept offers from others when you are experiencing challenges.  Teamwork makes the load lighter.

Finally, after all of this, I was even able to find a space of gratitude.  Embracing limitations not only enables compassion to ourselves and others, it also can present a multitude of unexpected opportunities.

What examples of embracing limitations have you experienced, and how have they helped you to become a better leader?