I recently accomplished a goal I’ve been trying to achieve for quite some time. I made it to the top of Mount Shasta. Until that day, I had and used many excuses. One of the first was that I lived so far away. But as the years went by I moved closer and closer until I found myself living at its foot. The next best excuse was that I didn’t have a partner to climb with. Truth be told, I had many friends that were willing to climb with me, I just needed to set a date and invite them. Eventually, I ran out of excuses. If I was ever going to achieve the goal, the time was before me.
Overcoming all excuses, a date was set, a buddy was found and the challenge was on.
The climb was much more difficult than I imagined. Well into the climb on the second day, I began to feel that every step would be my last. I kept looking up to the goal, the top of the mountain, and it never seemed to get any closer. To manage, I forced myself to pick closer targets. My thinking was that if I can make it just a few more feet, I would re-evaluate when I got there.
As you know, I did reach the top of Mount Shasta. The view was breath taking and the sense of accomplishment was huge. At a later date while pondering this event, I couldn't’t help think there was a leadership lesson in it.
Leaders are often faced with enormous challenges. As I learned while climbing Mount Shasta, when the goal seems overwhelming, focus on smaller milestones.
Great heights are reached one small step at a time. Climb on!
A favorite saying from one of my outdoors partners is, “The trip is not worth it unless it is an adventure.” Facing death and living to tell is much more exciting than avoiding risks at all costs. I’ve had my share of adventures and I have to agree, they are much more fun to talk about.
Some would say that everyone should experience an adventure of two. They would continue to say that adventures build character by forcing one out of their comfort zone, a place all aspiring leaders need to go to excel as leaders. When experiencing adventures with others, camaraderie and commitment to those sharing the experience are bonded forever. From my own experience, adventures breed passion and remind us that we’re alive.
This sense of adventure has a lesson for leading teams. In the business world, an agency without character, one that has no camaraderie and commitment to one another, and one that appears to be void of passion and a sense of being alive, is not much of an agency at all.
The lesson is clear in my mind. As a leader it is your job to build character, to enhance trust and commitment to the vision and mission of the team, and instill passion and fervor to the cause. Therefore, make their experience and adventure.
It’s easy to get frustrated when little action is happening, especially at a time when action seems imperative. But pushing for action just for action’s sake is not always the best strategy either. Unless there’s a plan, insisting on action may result in heading in the wrong direction. Take a break. Mull it over. Count to ten. Sleep on it. If action is imperative, it will not go away. However, being patience and not overreacting in the moment, will allow the better decisions to rise to the top.
On a rock climbing trip where I was being taught how to lead, I learned a valuable lesson in leadership. The lesson was to not forget the details.
To climb safely one uses a system that includes placing protection, i.e., chocks or pitons, in which you attach a carabiner and then the rope that keeps you from falling back to the ground in case of a slip. The leader puts the safety system in place while the second dismantles the system on the way up. Typically the leader and second will trade back and forth. As it was my turn to lead my partner refused to let me take off. He said you are missing a very important part of climbing safely. Your rope is tangled up. If you start your lead now you’re going to find yourself in a very precarious position where you’ll need the rope to flow freely. He insisted I take the time to assure “all systems were go” before making the first move.
As a leader we tend to forget the importance of taking care of the details. What goes on behind the scenes is often more important than the final act of leading. Just because you’ve volunteered to be a leader doesn’t mean you don’t need to take the time to prepare and practice. If you want to be a leader that others will follow, take care of the details and make sure your rope is untangled.
I had the pleasure of coaching soccer with my two sons growing up. It provided opportunities for quality father/son activities in an environment that focused on teamwork and common goals. Although winning was always one of the goals, the main reason for volunteering to coach was to teach my sons the importance of working with others to achieve success that was greater than individual efforts.
There was one team back in those days that was difficult to beat. It seemed that all the superstars were on that team. Every contest took the utmost concentration and maximum effort just to be competitive. We often came close to winning but typically fell short. Even though, year end and year out, the team did not give up.
What was extraordinary was that the kids on our team were not superstars. They were ordinary kids from ordinary families, picked to join the team because of the friendships that existed between them and their families. They were an extraordinary team because of their commitment to each other, their hard work and dedication to improvement, and their love of soccer. It was a recipe for success.
As you can imagine this has a story book ending. During the last game, the last tournament and the last time this team would ever be together, we were matched up with the very team that had given us so much trouble all those years. And yes, the winner of the game would be the champions of the tournament.
After all those years of being ordinary, but doing it day in and day out with commitment and dedication, they became extraordinary that day. On that day they became great.
I use this story to remind me that building effective teams is not about bringing in superstars. It’s about ordinary people doing great things together.
On a sight-seeing trip my wife and I stumbled into a back-country lodge. The host greeted us at the front door and offered a warm welcome. After a brief conversation we inquired about getting a bite to eat. She indicated this was not typically that kind of business but she would see what she could round up.
She escorted us into the dining area and motioned for us to sit. Then she pulled up a chair and proceeded to share stories. After several minutes, she remembered why we were there. She apologized and proceeded to the kitchen to fix up a couple of the tastiest smoked turkey sandwiches I’ve ever tasted.
Reflecting back on the experience I couldn’t help but feel that I had just visited with my best friend. Was it the warm welcome, the stories she told or the extra care to make a delicious sandwich? I’m not sure which of those things did the trick, but I certainly wanted to share emails and make a promise to stay in touch.
It dawned on me later that this person didn’t know me from Adam. I had never seen her before and probably won’t ever see her again. Even though, she treated the two of us with the warmth and care of long lost friends. What a testament to whom she is.
What if in our leadership endeavors we gave to others the attention that lodge host gave to us? I venture to say that we would have a tremendous number of followers. I went away that day inspired to lead the way to lasting friendships.
Delegation is often said to be one of the good qualities of a leader. However, it may not be the best way to been seen as the leader. Once delegated, you are at the mercy of the one delegated too. If the delegated to person is leading within your vision, you are successfully building a leadership structure. If he or she leads far from the intended vision, their acts are more as a saboteur.
Good leaders are enjoyable to observe in action. So what better way to mentor leadership than to lead with others? Instead of always delegating, participate in work groups and brain storming sessions. Invite employees of all levels to work with you in creating solutions to problems and developing policy.
Aspiring leaders will appreciate your time and interest. As you set an example of your hard work and dedication to the cause, your employees will see firsthand what is expected from them. By leading with others you are living your vision and not merely declaring your vision, an effort well worth the investment.
One of the classes I was required to take in college was the dreaded statistics class. It was a class you wanted to do without but knew that some basic understanding would be beneficial in a career.
I studied hard and had some success in making sense of it all. However, one day the professor introduced a novel idea of divvying up each of the statistical formulas so that each person could share their special secrets and short cuts to super understanding. I bought it, to my demise.
When it came to test day, I found myself unable to think as each of my colleagues thought. Their logic was not my logic. I was then completely confused and not my normal slightly confused self.
I would have achieved greater success by working from my own logic space. I should not have underestimated my abilities.
I learned a valuable lesson day, it is better to live in your own confusion. At least it is a familiar place.
Some memories come at you from seemingly nowhere. That’s where this one came from. I remember getting my first pair of tennis shoes. I was so excited. To me, getting my first pair of tennis shoes meant that I could run faster. Actually I thought no one could beat me in a race. So I challenged my dad to a race back to our house. We marked up to the line and suddenly we started running. To my disappointment he beat me.
Although disappointed I never lost the urge to run. I enjoyed many years of track, football and baseball, all sports requiring running talent. What I learned from that day forward, however, was that hard work and sweat produced greater results than a new pair of flashy tennis shoes.
Past actions and decisions often get in the way of “right doing” behavior. By that I mean we avoid doing what is the right thing to do because our past actions were rejected, dismissed or ridiculed. We blame the other for not being receptive and stop trying to assist. Or worse yet, we knowingly let them walk down a path of failure to prove the point they should have been asking for help in the first place.
Being a team player is staying focused on the team rather than our individual selves. Leaders must overcome damaged egos and continue to do the right thing for the sake of the team. This isn’t as easy to do as it is to say. The ego has only one mission and that is its survival.
As a leader you will eventually reach a level that doing the right thing must be the path chosen. One way to keep yourself on the right path is to surround yourself with team members that hold you accountable to the team first. I read a quote once that said, “Those that fail to seek the consul of others will surely fail.” If you’ve chosen the right team members, they will hold you accountable for doing the right thing. And the responsibility goes both ways, you must hold your team mates accountable.
Are you being a good team player?