Let the Adventure Begin
I married an adventurer. It’s a good thing my naive 23-year old self didn’t know what I was getting myself into at the time. Over the years, our garage has collected the accouterments of our adventurous quests. We have, golf clubs, tennis rackets, kayaks, snow skis, bins upon bins of hiking equipment.
Years ago, if someone had asked me while standing at the altar, if I’d be climbing the highest peak with the man standing across from me, I would have laughed. At the time, I rarely worked out.
The Call to Conquer a Summit
When we moved to the west coast, the thrill of adventure ratcheted up. Some of the highest peaks in the west were a few hours by car, and to my husband, they were calling.
We’ve conquered Yosemite’s Half Dome and Mount Lyell. We’ve enjoyed the summit of lesser-known peaks with equally stunning views. One year, we braved the highest of them all, Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. It was, an excruciating 22 miles round-trip to the 14,505-foot elevation.
With the vision before him, my husband began preparing us for the trip. He scheduled regular hikes of smaller peaks to begin conditioning for the terrain. We bought backpacks, ice axes and crampons for snow, appropriate clothing, first aid equipment, water containers, and food.
The day before the hike, we drove to the Mount Whitney Portal to get our hiking passes and to spend the night acclimating to the higher altitude and thinner air. The peak loomed large before us, and I remember thinking, “We’re going to climb that?!”
The Intensity of the Climb
The alarm went off at the painful hour of 2:30 a.m. It was important to get a head start and summit early enough in the day to have adequate time to get down the mountain.
We loaded up our gear and headed up the mountain. With headlamps on and limited visibility, the sounds of nature were loud and ominous.
The breaking of dawn brought a bit of ease and peace as we continued to ascend. Mid-morning brought the looming reality of the “the chute,” an insanely steep section of the mountain. When snow is present like it was for us, it required putting on crampons – steel spikes attached to your hiking boots, allowing you to dig into the snow and climb up the 45-60 degree incline. Intense!
The climb up the chute was exhausting, literally counting ten steps and stopping to catch my breath. I repeated the pattern for two hours until I made it through that section.
The mental discipline to put one foot in front of the other and to be patient with my slow but steady progress challenged every fiber of my typically fast-paced, driven personality. Once we ascended the chute, we still had several miles of rocky terrain to cover before reaching the actual summit.
Strategic Leadership Helped Scale the Mountain
Climbing Mount Whitney was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, and as I’ve reflected on it, I realize how significant it was to have the strategic leadership that my husband provided.
For him, Mount Whitney was a glorious vision and opportunity. It excited and energized him to consider summiting that mountain. He had a vision and the confidence that he could scale the mountain.
For me, Mount Whitney was a daunting challenge. I doubted my abilities and feared the unknown. While I wanted to embrace my husband’s vision, it brought uncertainties, but we scaled the mountain together.
Mount Whitney Parallels for Leaders
A leader is a visionary. He or she can see the splendor of the summit in their minds’ eye. They have a level of confidence in their ability to achieve their vision. They are eager to bring others with them to experience the joy of accomplishing such a grand “summit” vision.
But here’s the distinction I see between the leader who can compel people to join them in the pursuit of the vision and the leader who struggles to keep a unified team alongside him. The difference has more to do with the discipline of the leader than the capability of the followers.
What I often hear from leaders is that their team “just can’t keep up,” “they don’t know how to lead others,” “they don’t get it,” etc. Many times the leader finds him or herself frustrated with the teams’ inability to keep up or own the vision.
Consequently, the leader gets frustrated and discouraged. The staff or volunteers feel the leader’s disappointment. And before long the entire organization has stagnated.
Leaders, what you don’t want to hear but needs to be said is that you have to learn new disciplines to lead your team to new heights. In my experience climbing the mountain and working with leaders at organizations of all sizes, I can share seven key disciplines leaders must embrace to lead others to their vision.
7 Essentials to Scale Your Visionary Summit
1) Plan The Route
Most leaders are comfortable with figuring it out as they go. In fact, that spontaneous and fearless spirit has often served you well. If you started a business or planted a church, this reckless abandon to chase your passion was the very thing that gave you the courage to get started. It’s not all bad. However, now that you have a team of people that need to ascend together, you need to take some time to plan the route before you start. When my husband was planning our hike, he spent months studying and reviewing reports from other hikers. He bought books about the mountain and learned about the conditions at the time of year we’d be hiking. He learned the landmarks and had the route memorized before we even saw the physical mountain.
2) Prepare The Gear
With a vision before you, it’s time to consider what you’ll need to accomplish this goal. Will it require additional staff or an extra budget? Do you or your team need training in a specific area to be better equipped? Weeks before we began our hike, my husband began purchasing the gear we would need. Some of it seemed silly to me. Did we need all this? As you prepare, some of your team will question you, too. They aren’t living in the details as you are and so they may not fully see the need or understand the purpose. Keep preparing.
3) Prepare The Team
There comes a critical point when you must start preparing the team for what is ahead. As the time approached, my husband gave me homework. He sent links to articles he wanted me to read and videos he wanted me to watch that would help prepare me for the journey. I needed to be able to anticipate the chute and learn how to self-arrest if I was to slip.
Additionally, he trained me in how to use my crampons and ice axe. We discussed what we would do if we became separated. Consider how you need to prepare your team for what lies ahead. What challenges will they encounter that they haven’t experienced before? What criticism will they hear from those skeptical of the vision, and how do you want them to respond? What do you need them to read or study to prepare for the new terrain they will encounter?
4) Carry A Heavier Load
Part of a leader’s responsibility is to go first. You see things that others can’t see, and you also need to bear more burden for it than they will bear. Leaders are equipped and designed to carry a bit more than the other team members.
As we prepared our packs for our hike, my husband’s pack was nearly twice as heavy as mine. He didn’t expect me to carry my fair share. He knew that the only way I could make it up that mountain was to carry an appropriate load for me. He carried extra gear so we could go together.
What do you need to carry for your team? I sometimes see bitterness creep in for leaders. They get frustrated because their load is more substantial than the others. That’s the responsibility of leadership. Since you can carry more, others can make the journey with you.
5) Slow Your Pace
For most leaders, you can go faster towards the goal than the rest of your team. The discipline of the leader is remembering that you need to slow your pace to keep everyone moving with you.
My husband could have climbed that mountain much faster if he had gone alone. But he wanted to go with me. He wanted to experience this accomplishment together, so he slowed his pace to match mine.
6) Encourage Along The Way
At some point in the journey, you will get tired. Your team will get tired. It may feel like you’re never going to get there. Maybe it’s taking longer than you thought, or you encountered some unexpected obstacles.
As we hiked, I easily got discouraged. The looming mountain before me seemed to be growing rather than shrinking. I began to doubt if we were ever going to get there. Most of these thoughts I kept to myself, but my husband picked up on my fears and doubts and was intentional to encourage continuously. He reminded me of how far we had come and how good I was doing. In the most challenging moments, he reminded me to take the climb one step at a time. When he sensed we needed a break, he stopped so that we could refuel and rest.
As you and your team embark on your mission, they are going to get discouraged. It’s not if, it’s when. You are going to get discouraged as well, but remember that keeping hope and possibility in front of others is the strength we bring as leaders. Encourage every step. Celebrate every small victory. Your encouraging voice is essential.
7) Keep Leading
Perhaps the hardest part for a leader is being the one out front. You battled your own emotions. Some moments you’re energized, and you want to race ahead, but ultimately, this leads to discouragement and frustration for your team that feels left behind. At other times, you may relax and saunter along beside everyone. But what is needed is for you to be a couple of steps ahead, leading the way, anticipating challenges, and spurring people along.
As we hiked that mountain, my husband stayed just a couple of steps ahead. He identified trail markers to ensure we headed in the right direction, he scouted out places for us to take a break, but most importantly his constant presence in front of me gave me confidence we were going the right way.
Your steady leadership provides comfort and strength to your team. People need you to stay a few steps ahead, charting the way forward.
The Victories Are Sweater When Shared
Nearly every time my husband suggests our next adventure, I encourage him to go without me. I know I slow him down, and he could scale those mountains so much faster without me. But every time I make the suggestion, he always responds with, “Jen, I don’t want to climb a mountain. I want to climb a mountain with you.” He knows the victories are always so much sweeter when they are shared.
Leaders, we have the great privilege of leading others to extraordinary outcomes. As much as we’re tempted to go it alone sometimes, the victory is so much richer when we experience it with others. So embrace the disciplines of a leader. It’s challenging. It’s often counter-cultural, but the result is worth it. Slow down, set the pace, and experience the success of climbing together!
Jenni Catron and The 4Sight Group
** 5 Simple Steps to a Great Strategic Plan **
Free Workbook to Get Moving Toward Your Goals
As leaders we are full of ideas and initiatives. We see potential and opportunity all around.
We can almost taste the outcome but oftentimes we get bogged down by how we’ll get from here to there.
The “how” can be overwhelming and discouraging so we give up on our goals or fail to build a plan to help us actually achieve them.
These five steps will get you and your team on the path to moving from ideas to action!
Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.
Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.