Saturday, I had the pleasure of summiting my first 14er in Colorado. A group of us from WestWay had planned the hike into the high elevations to the top of Mt. Sherman. Well… most of the group planned, anyway! Months of lesser hikes and informational meetings led up to our ascent to 14,036 feet above sea level, where the oxygen is thin and even the trees have given up their slow spread. Where the view is huge and where clouds are born. It was incredible to stand on top of such a great height and literally see the moisture in the air condensing into little wispy patches of white that scurried off together, drawn into the denser gray of the father clouds.
But the view from the top was only possible because of the journey from the bottom.
There were about 20 of us making the trek to the summit and I couldn’t help but notice a few lessons throughout the day. The first of these was born out of my frustration with my hiking partner. Andrew is 17. He’s an awesome kid with a truck load of energy and more creativity on tap than water from a fire hydrant. If you’re bored around Andrew, you’re just not paying attention – or he’s lulled you into a false sense of security and is about to pounce! He’s been working on a farm a lot lately, and when he’s not playing some video game or another, he’s probably doing pushups or pull-ups or hanging from the rafters like Rocky or something. (Come to think of it, he’d seem totally at home in a meat locker punching sides of beef, too!) He has a long stride and about 20 oz. of extra weight on his frame (only due to the Dr. Pepper he drank earlier). The bottom line is, this kid is in great shape. Contrast that with my 37 years, of which much of the last 7 has been spent alone at a desk in an office, my short stride, and the 15 extra pounds I’ve found since I was his age. I had done next to nothing to get physically ready for this trip, so there was no way I was keeping his pace.
I managed to convince him to stop and rest often enough that my cardiac rhythm could stop setting the beat for a euro-tech club rave, but we still ended up almost an hour ahead of the rest of our group. As we waited at the summit for them to arrive, I couldn’t help but grow a little frustrated. By keeping up with him (sort of) I’d lost the opportunity to help the rest of the group. Later, as we tottered off down the mountain, the frustration continued to grow. We had arrived at the top first, but we hadn’t done anything to help our friends get there. That’s not leadership, it’s just going faster than the herd. Part of leadership certainly is showing the way, going first, taking point… but you can’t lead from way out ahead. There is no substitute for presence in leadership.
5 of our group didn’t quite make it to the top. That is probably bothering me today more than it is bothering them. I can’t help but wonder, what if I’d been there with them, encouraging, prodding, coaxing… It’s what I do. That is who I am. As I look back over my years in ministry, one of the fingerprints of God in my life has been the ability to get people to do what they didn’t think they could do. To get people to push just a little further when they didn’t think they could take one more step. But it’s only by being there, in the midst of the fear or anxiety or weariness that I can be effective. I can’t just stand at the top and shout for them to keep going.
There is no substitute for presence in leadership.
Who do you need to be present for this week? Who around you is about to turn back? Go be with them. Maybe you can help them take One More Step.