The path to the top is full of many different characters. Most people with any level of ambition desire to get to the pinnacle of their careers. Whether it is the head of an organization, leading a division within the organization, or being a senior person on the team, we all have/had aspirations to get to the top.
If you have followed Leadership and Main for any period of time, one of my escapes is to hike Kennesaw Mountain. In addition to it being a challenging physical activity, it gives me space to think, and to reflect on my world. Many of the 133 blog posts have been inspired either on the way up, at the top, or on the way down the mountain.
As I was heading to the gym Saturday morning, I had the impulse to head to the mountain. So, I made a U-turn and headed that way. As I started the climb, I realized two important things. One, I dressed for air conditioning at the gym. I had sweatpants on and it was easily 100 degrees plus out. Two, the night before, I had hit my knee on a hamper that was hidden in a dark hallway! It made the climb more difficult than usual, but I chose to pursue the climb to the top anyways.
As I made the decent, I had an opportunity to reflect on the types of characters I saw along the hike. Immediately, this week’s post came to mind, the path to the top is full of many different characters! Here are the three characters I encountered and the role they play in our leadership journeys:
The Under Estimator
I strongly believe that many of the characters on the mountain that day started with the best of intentions. Sitting in a nicely air-conditioned home, they had the same aspirations as I did, to get a workout in and/or to clear their mind. The trail was littered with people taking breaks, sitting down, defeated by the shear grind of the climb. They underestimated the challenge of getting to the top.
The path to the top of the leadership mountain is paved with these characters. They had the best of intentions when starting the climb, only to find themselves under conditioned, out of place, and ill-prepared. Intentions do not always determine our direction in leadership. Too many underestimate the grind of the climb, the long hours, the energy required to lead people, and the chaos that lurks around each corner. Never underestimate the challenges associated with getting to the top.
The Over Achiever
The classic overachiever! These were the people that had weighted vests on, tactical gear suited for a climb in the middle of the desert, and they ran up the mountain while the rest of us hiked. They looked the part and got there much quicker than the rest of us. While they reached the pinnacle, they missed a lot along the way. Their focus on getting to the top caused them to miss the awesome experiences that the climb had to offer.
We were probably all in this category at some point. The peak of the mountain was all we could focus on. When we get so focused on the destination, we can easily miss out on valuable experiences of the journey. There are so many lessons to be learned from how to do things, to how not to do things, and to soaking in the beauty of the process. The overachiever gets there fast.
The Steady Pacer
There are two options to get to the top of the mountain. I chose to hike the dirt trail that is a more direct route, but is a more challenging one to the top. The alternative is the paved roadway that winds around the mountain. It is longer in distance, but a smoother, less challenging path. There are minimal obstacles or difficult terrain.
The steady climb in leadership is one that requires great patience and risk avoidance. It is a calculated and methodical climb to the top. We get there, just not always at the pace that we desire. Too much time can be spent avoiding the challenges of a more direct climb, the ones that teach us the harder lessons of leadership. The avoidance of those challenges can find us unprepared for what awaits us at the top.
So…if each of these three characters have their flaws, then which one should we desire to be? The short answer is…all of them, but at different times. Sometimes we need to start the journey ill-prepared with the best of intentions, sometimes we need to let our aspirations drive us faster than we should go, and sometimes we just need to take the safe, slow, and steady route. The path will always require different paces and different strategies.
I saw an Instagram post this weekend from Simon Sinek that was perfect advice for deciding which character to be on the climb, “When in doubt, be yourself.” Being authentically you in your journey is always the best path. No climb to the top is ever the same, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is.
Be authentically you in the climb. Find YOUR pace and you will find YOUR path to the top.