So, who needs you most today?
A few years back I strapped on my backpack and joined a group of climbers heading for the summit of a 14,005′ mountain in Colorado. The energy level at the trailhead was incredible. It was also very dark and I hadn’t brought a headlamp or flashlight. “I will just have to stick close to my partner,” I thought to myself. Since my partner was the climb team leader and was packing a GPS, I felt at ease.
Of course, that was before his 6′ 5″ frame began taking enormous strides into the darkness.
Long story short, after months of rigorous training — climbing steps in the football stadium with a 40-pound pack, riding my bike and breaking in my boots on sidehill treks — I was forced to step off the trail within the first five minutes of our climb. I was unable to take another step, and I couldn’t speak out to let my leader know I was falling behind.
As I stood along the side of the trail gasping for air, listening to my heart pound in my head, the rest of the climb team walked passed me. I had never felt so alone or abandoned in my life. I thought, “In a minute I will be severed from the team.” Before I could complete my thought, two other climb team members stepped off the trail, not to rescue me, but because they couldn’t breath either. When we finally were able to speak ,we agreed that the summit was most likely not attainable for us.
But we also resolved that we’d stick together and go as far as we could.
A little further up the path our leader circled back to check on us. He reminded us “not to climb alone” to “keep monitoring each other,” to “remember that reaching the summit is not the goal,” and that “I will be back to check on you.”
Over the next 13+ hours I learned a lot about myself, real leadership and the value of teamwork. Whenever I focused on my pain and my needs I found that my feet got heavier and the summit seemed farther away. Whenever my leader circled back and encouraged us to keep going, my backpack felt lighter and the prospect of reaching the summit reappeared.
We eventually stood on the summit that day, but to my amazement the summit experience paled in comparison to the rest of our journey. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me given all the relationship capital we developed and life lessons we learned during the 13-hour trek to and from the summit. Too often I think we overemphasize the summit experience and forget that real leadership is needed every step of the way.
What leaders do on the ordinary days matters as much if not more than how they lead on the mission-critical days.
Keeping Things On Track
Right now within your sphere of influence, under your leadership, there are at least three co-workers who feel they’ve been forced to step off the path. They are gasping for air — struggling to take the next step from their office to the printer — feeling alone in their career journey.
I encourage you to walk around your office or building today. Ask your co-workers, “How are you doing?” Then look into their eyes as they answer. Are their words congruent with their expression? If not, ask them “What do you need most right now from me?” or “How can I help you get from where you are to where you want to be?”
So, who needs you most today?
What are you going to do about it? Are you going to keep heading to the summit and leave them gasping along the side of the trail? What might they need anyway?
Maybe they need you to carry their backpack (burdens or stress) for a few days. Maybe they just need to know they are not alone on this journey. Maybe they will find their strength again if they feel needed by you. Maybe they don’t believe the summit can be reached.
Whatever the case may be, as their leader you need to reach out and encourage them to keep going otherwise you may turn around one day and realize you are standing alone on the summit.
Image Sources: jeffszuc.com
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Filed under: Servant Leadership