Not long ago my 17-year-old son and I went on a hike on Usery Mountain just north of Mesa, Arizona. We took on the Pass Mountain Trail, a seven-mile loop around the mountain which summits about two thirds of the way along the trail.
It wasn’t a particularly arduous climb but the intensity was elevated for us because we were pressed for time: he was catching a flight back home to Minneapolis in just a few hours. We had less time to do the hike than we would have liked. As I raced across the mountain, numerous leadership lessons surfaced.
In the coming weeks I will document twenty of them. With titles like “You will probably not crash to your death” and “Sometimes it is best not to look down” and “Appreciate occasional and unexpected lushness,” I share the leadership lessons that showed up for me on the mountain.
These leadership lessons will help you communicate and lead more effectively whether you lead from the board room or the lunch room.
Leadership Lesson #1:
Just because you start together doesn’t mean you will end together.
My son Andrew and I started the hike together. This was before he told me that his spirit animal was a mountain goat. I didn’t know he had a spirit animal. I didn’t even know he was that, well, spiritual.
We weren’t three minutes from the trail head when he and his long, lean legs began to outpace me. Considerably.
For the next 30 minutes, I struggled to keep up. At 6’1” he’s got a solid seven inches on me and it’s mostly in his legs. He’s also got minus 29 years on me. And while I like to think I’m in shape, this boy runs cross country, cross country skis, and could skip lithely over the rugged terrain in a way I could never do. Not even at his age.
Those 30 minutes were pure agony.
I willed him to slow down.
I worried about him.
I worried about me.
I tried so hard to keep up.
I tried even harder not to be mad at him.
As I saw him round a corner at least a half mile ahead of me, his neon yellow tank top a stark contrast to the greys, beiges and soft greens of the desert terrain, I realized he wasn’t waiting for me to catch up. Loping along at a comfortable pace for his long legs, he didn’t appear concerned with me at all.
In that moment it hit me: We could both enjoy this hike (which I hadn’t been up until this point!) while being on the mountain simultaneously, each at a pace that suited us individually.
After this mountainous realization (pun so very much intended), I relaxed my pace and found my groove. I started to enjoy myself and take in my surroundings. And there, in that moment, the first leadership lesson appeared: Just because you start together doesn’t mean you will finish together . . . or should even keep the same pace.
Whether it is a freshman year roommate, grad school colleague, or someone who started with your current employer on the same day as you, that’s all it means: You started together. It doesn’t mean you are going to keep pace and it certainly doesn’t mean you are going to end together.
Letting go of feeling that we had to stay together and that I was supposed to keep up (or that he was supposed to wait up) was liberating.
I let go of comparison.
I let go of self-flagellation (at least about the hike).
I let go of judgement.
And I began to enjoy the hike.