Leadership Lessons from Mt. Sherman – A Price Will Be Paid

In the post about summiting my first 14er (Mt. Sherman), I mentioned that it really wore me out trying to keep up with slow down Andrew. He’s in great shape… I’m not… extra pounds… physical prime of his life… etc. But there’s actually more to that story.

WestWay 14ers
End of the hike. Andrew & I are both in the back – he’s the shirtless one all relaxed, I’m the one that looks dopey-drunk with my eyes half closed.

There are a handful of families here at WestWay that have ventured into Colorado often over the past several years to conquer other 14,000 foot summits. Many months ago, a few of them decided they wanted to invite more of our church family into the experience. They began hiking often in the nearby hills and engaging new friends in numerous preparation activities. I think I made it to two or three of the Bluff hikes, which are essentially identical to summiting an actual 14er if you throw out the pavement and jack the Bluff up about ten thousand feet and go up and down about 3 times… They also had several informational meetings about what to expect on the mountain, what kind of conditions to prepare for, what to pack, etc. I read the texts that told us about those meetings – but was out of the area for every single one.

I’m no sloth. I was born a mile high. I’ve run a marathon and a half-marathon before. I played soccer all through college and still enjoy a few hours on the pitch when I can find somebody to play with. But none of that was preparation enough for a 5 mile trek into cloud-level elevations. As we began to make our descent back toward the trailhead, my lack of preparation was painfully made clear. I started feeling worse and worse, to the point where, by the time I reached the van it felt like that van was running me over with every step. My head was pounding steadily while my knees decided to syncopate. My legs were shot, and overall I felt like a pinata at a 9 year old’s birthday party. Not the good kind that’s filled with awesome candy, either, but the kind you just beat and beat and beat until someone finally breaks out a pocket knife and cuts off the head and dumps out a pile of crappy gum from Y2K.

I was shot.

And I had no one to blame but myself. I hadn’t paid the price to be ready for the challenge ahead of time, so I was paying it now. When you’re climbing a mountain, or running a marathon for that matter… you can pay in increments ahead of time, or you can pay it all at once, but be sure a price will be paid.

Leadership is similar.

It hurts and it’s hard. The weight of leadership can wear you down. People you love and for whom you want the best will screw up, then keep you at a distance so they don’t have to explain. Some will seem to be with you all the way, but then will trail off into other endeavors. Others will outright oppose you and do everything they can do undermine your influence and mitigate any impact you may be having. For a leader, these events hurt, and if we’re unprepared can leave us paying a price from which we may not recover. I spent most of the afternoon and night on Saturday with a raging headache and a rolling stomach (and even a few minutes with my face in a big porcelain bowl)… I could have avoided that if I’d just payed in increments before the hike began.

Leaders can avoid the train wreck after effects as well if we’ll make sure to pay ahead in a few ways:

  1. Lead from God’s strength, not just your own. Grace isn’t just the stuff of a one-time moment, it’s sufficient for what you’re going through today and what you’ll face tomorrow. Live by it. Lean into it. It’s not your own will, skill, or talent, but rather the strength of God’s grace working in you and through you that is what will keep you going. The price to pay here is an ego surrendered in humility.
  2. Build up your stamina in prayer. Our conversation with God should be the running commentary of our lives, not a few little captions to the photos of the rough patches and bedtimes. Pay your time and attention into this account so that there’s some reserves to draw on when those tough & painful situations come up.
  3. Build strong bonds with your team. You are not alone. Sometimes I think we value independence so highly that it costs us dearly in terms of relationships. People that could be our closest allies are kept at arms length to maintain professionalism or because we don’t trust enough. But the pain of the descent could be lessened so much if we would just learn to lean on each other. Leaders can have friends – and we can even lead with them. We need each other. Let’s stop putting on the brave face and pretending we don’t.
What other ways have you paid ahead? Or maybe you’ve learned something by paying late fees like I did on the mountain…
[Check out Enjoy the Journey, No Substitute for Presence, and Keep Fueling for the rest of this series.

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