Leadership Lesson #9: Don’t look down

Leadership Lesson 9

Leadership Lesson #9: Don’t look down

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Category : leadership

Author’s note: This is the ninth in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.  Read them all here.


When you’re not expecting to be on the sheer edge of a cliff, it is even more terrifying than when you are anticipating it.

Most of the hike up and around Usery Mountain were of low to moderate challenge.  (If you’ve been reading the whole series, you’ll recall that we had an additional challenge of time pressure: my son’s flight was leaving a few short hours after we began the hike.)

So when I suddenly found myself with just inches between me and, well, gravity, I was unnerved.

Of course, I knew I wasn’t going to fall to my death.  We’ve already covered that.

As I inched along with trepidation and great care, I took a quick glance down. You know, just to see how far it would be if I did fall.

Big mistake.

It was much, much, MUCH farther than I had anticipated.

There wasn’t a switchback 20 feet below. There wasn’t anything below. At least that registered when I looked down. It was like staring into the abyss.

When you’re doing something that requires great risk, courage and stamina, I propose that it’s best NOT to look down.  At least not at the riskiest, most grueling, character-building moment.  Sure, later it is fine. In fact, then it is highly rewarding to see how far you’ve come.  But at that tender moment when the mountain is steep and when so much is on the line, don’t look down.

The same is true in leadership. When we are leading through high stakes, high risk situations – whether leading from the top or from the side – it is best to resist looking down.

When we look down and see the magnitude of the risk we are taking, most of us will get a little scared. Some of us will get a lot scared.

And whether it takes a little fear or a lot of fear to knock you off your game, you might just act on that fear and pull back a little:

:  Not execute the plan as big as you had initially intended.

:  Not run as hard against aggressive deadlines.

:  Not delegate as much to the high potential staff member.

If excitement gives way to fear and fear runs the show, you lose control.

You lose control of strategy. You lose control of tactics. You lose control of control.

So in those moments of high risk, those moments when it really matters, don’t look down. Instead, keep putting one careful foot in front of the other and take the next step and the next step.

There will be plenty of time to look down later.

  • 2



    August 12, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Great message Janel. I am going to go back & read the entire series now!!


      August 14, 2016 at 11:13 am

      Thanks, Kathleen! Let me know what you think.

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