I just returned from a week long hiking trip in the Smoky Mountains.
It was such an amazing experience to spend the week off the grid and be able to hang out with some amazing friends. We carried all our food and gear in our backpack and ventured into woods. Even though we were taking long hikes each day, the days seemed to last forever. The only schedule for the day was to hike to the next camp and eat. It was amazing.
Leadership lessons from hiking the Appalachian Trail:
1. Know where you are going
Just like the map that we carried with us, we had a plan before we started our journey. Great leaders, ( as John C Maxwell says) know the way, show the way, and go the way. Your map or course of action is the vision for your organization. Charting a course is key to leading others effectively. We were referring to our map the entire hike. Now, the map gave us a course of action but it did not show us where what we would encounter along the way. Which leads us to our next leadership lesson. “Be flexible.”
2. Be flexible
Your terrain can change quickly. During our hike, the terrain was constantly changing. We had wide soft dirt paths, rock and boulder trails that were straight up, and then we would have to cross a stream and hard clay trails downhill. Leadership is like hiking the Smoky Mountains; you have to remain flexible. Great leaders understand that the path will be difficult and change often. Leading an organization is not easy just because you have a vision mapped out. One time during our hike we arrived at camp, and we discovered it infested with yellow jackets. We didn’t plan for this. It wasn’t on the map. It just happened. We had to flexible and adapt. The same is true with the course you have charted for our organization. The vision is a guide to get you where you want to go, but there is no way to know what you will encounter along the journey. Which leads us to the next leadership lesson: “You can’t make the journey alone.”
3. You can’t make the journey alone
During our hike, we all leaned on one another. Each of us had our gifts and talent that we brought to the journey. I was experiencing my first real extended hike out in the middle of nowhere. I had spent the last year studying, researching and buying gear. I studied the mountains and trails online but had never experienced them. I teamed up with seasoned hikers that had been hiking these mountains for over twenty years and glean from their wisdom. I had a bunch of head knowledge, but no hands on experience. Leaders need to surround themselves with men and women that are wiser and older than themselves.
Leaders can teach what they know but can only take people where they have been. We all did our part to help and encourage one another. It was an amazing emotional, physical and spiritual experience. Like my hike through the Smoky mountains, you can’t build an organization alone. Great organizations are built on great teams and great teamwork. Great teamwork means you work together to lead others. Which leads us to our next leadership lesson: Just because you can go farther, faster, it doesn’t mean you should.
Just because you can go faster, doesn’t mean you should
4. Leadership is about taking others with you.
The goal is to stay a few steps ahead of those you are leading not way out in front. During our hike, there was a time that I was about twenty minutes ahead of everyone on the trail. I was enjoying the trail when I encountered a black bear. There I was alone away from our team. I was out in front but had no team to bounce ideas off of on how to handle the situation not to mention I wasn’t carrying the map. ( stupid! ) Thankfully, the black bear was scared of me, and he shot off into the wood in the opposite direction. Great leaders understand that they need to lead the way. Leaders should be only a few steps ahead in the journey so they can take others with them at a healthy pace and be able to have a team to work through the challenges as they arise. And let me tell you challenges will arise. First off, I had never seen a black bear face to face, my team had. I had only read about how to scare them away. My team had the real life experience on how to handle the situation and I was far away from them. I should have stuck with my team. Just because I could go faster didn’t mean I should have. Another trouble spot was when we encounter the yellow-jackets that I spoke of earlier. We reached camp and could not stay where we had planned. When we assessed or situation, we realized that we could hike to the next camp and stay there or hike out of the woods completely and complete our hike. We decide we would hike to the net camp, eat lunch and decide what to do. During lunch, we discussed our plan, looked at the map. The most seasoned hiker in the group had laid out our hike for the week. He designed it with enough resting points, so we didn’t overdo it and hurt ourselves. When we were eating lunch, it was only 11:30.
We thought it would be a great idea to try to push through and hike out of the woods rather than rest at camp one more night. That day we encountered the worst trail on the hike. We had to climb several thousand feet above sea level to get out and then hike to our vehicle. It was exhausting and the wrong decision, and we missed having another night under the stars. Just because we could go faster didn’t mean we should. Great leaders understand that there are times to push ahead and times to rest. We need to have a vision. We need to be flexible. We need to have a team. But we do need to go farther, faster. When you get too far out from of those you are leading, and they can become exhausted because you are pushing too hard. Set a pace in your organization that pushes people to accomplish great things yet gives margin to their lives. Life is a journey, enjoy the moment each and every day.
I learned so much on my hike. It was an experience I will cherish my entire life. I made new friends and reconnected with old ones. You have an amazing journey you are on right now. It’s called the journey of life. In the journey of life, you need to know where you are going. You have to be flexible. You can’t make the journey alone and in the journey of life, it’s now about how fast you go it’s about enjoying the experience because you only get one journey make it count.
Question: What lessons have you learned on the journey of life? Leave me a comment on my Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. I would love to hear from you!