This is the third in a series of nine articles, titled: “Lessons from the Incline.” These leadership lessons were realized while during weekly hikes up the Manitou Incline in Colorado. Here we tackle the topic of "Navigating the leadership terrain".
Navigating the Terrain: The Incline is a funny thing... Many times, a destination appears much easier to just go straight up-in a straight line. Sometimes that may be true. It looks faster and more efficient, but have you thought about the cost of taking the shortest path? Is the increased slope going to throw your back out and end the hike? Are there loose rocks along the way that will give out under your feet? Will the intensity of the slope of the Incline make you quit? As a leader, you have to understand the aspects of your decision-making and know how your decisions navigating the terrain will impact those around you. Are there obstacles that you can identify before you start the journey? What tools or equipment might you want to have on hand as you journey upward? Have you prepared enough for the grueling effort and hidden failures along the path?
In the military, there is a 3-day, 2-night course on land navigation. Over the course of three days, you are taught how to use a compass, read a map, and navigate terrain-even over night when the light is almost non-existent. You are given certain points on the map that you have to find in sequential order. If you fail to find them in that sequence, you are dropped off at another location to start over.
So, yes... The military does still use GPS, but the skill of navigating the terrain via compass and map is only a small part of the training. The real training is in overcoming the diversity of difficult and uncomfortable conditions. When you fail, and have to start over, do you have what it takes to keep going? When your partner doesn't do their part, do you follow suit and cut corners or quit? The leadership terrain is terrain that is ever-changing and increasingly fraught with failure, emotional attacks, and hard decisions. So how do we prepare to navigate this terrain—mentally, emotional and physically?
First, we have to be prepared. As leaders, we need to understand that leadership is difficult. There will be times that you will feel like you are under-prepared and overwhelmed. While you can't prepare for everything you will face as a leader, you have to understand your strengths as a leader and use those strengths to navigate unfamiliar terrain. As you ascend up the leadership incline, having a plan is critical, so here are three tips as you put together your leadership plan.
1. Begin with the end in mind—know where you are going and how you are going to get there. You have to know where you are going before you start the journey. In an ascent, you can't just wonder around the woods aimlessly until you reach the summit. You have to know the path and understand what your end-state will be. Practically, when faced with an unexpected leadership challenge, know the desired outcome of the decisions you are about to make. This gives you a viewpoint to aim for and a goal to keep you on track. Once you know what your end-state, you can start planning. As a best practice, if it's appropriate, your plan should include the rest of your team. In order to use your team to the fullest of their potential, you have to understand and use their individual strengths as it pertains to the end-state you want.
2. Go at a pace that you can sustain—starting out at a sprint can burn you out and exhaust you before you’ve really even begun. As you go down the path of decision making, working with your team, and heading toward your end-state, make sure you are moving at a sustainable pace. Don’t let the energy and excitement of a new beginning exhaust you and your team before you even hit the real challenges of the Incline. As a leader, there are others who are watching how you react to challenges. If you are running at an unsustainable pace, your team won't be able to catch up, and you will find yourself alone - in front, but alone. Take time to celebrate your mini accomplishments or benchmarks along the way. This will motivate your team and yourself. It will also keep them engaged and ready for the next challenge.
3. Celebrate the accomplishment of the end - even if you missed the bullseye. While hopefully, your leadership led your team up the incline well, and you reached your goal, sometimes there are adjustments that need to be made regarding measurements of success. Regardless of the outcome, you have faced a challenge head on and undoubtedly learned something new. Throughout the process, stay attuned to areas of growth and learning points. Celebrate the event and recognize your team for the amazing work they accomplished along the way. After celebration, look back at the journey—what went well, what didn’t, how can you improve the next time?
Navigating the terrain of leadership is a topic for an entire book. There is so much more to dive into here, but I wanted to give you a taste of how to navigate leadership terrain in a practical and useful way. As you lead your teams, families, churches, or businesses, remember that there WILL be unforeseen terrain that you will have to navigate. Use your leadership strengths and lean on others for theirs when the terrain gets tough. Regardless of the outcome, you will learn something about yourself along the way.
Stay tuned! We will be covering these and other leadership principles as we lead a 1-day peak coaching experience, The Leadership Summit Expedition, up America’s Mountain—Pike’s Peak in the fall of 2022. Contact me (Dr. Travis Hearne) at email@example.com for more information. Start strong, and finish well!