Not long after Angela and I were married, I signed up for a racing event with my new brother-in-law. The event consisted of a team 3-mile canoe, followed by either both of us completing a run and mountain bike trail or we could choose to tag-team the last two events. Our plan was to tag-team; Trent would compete in the mountain biking portion and I would compete in the trail running portion.
However, I thought it would be fun to do both. So, one day after work, I decided I should go ride the mountain biking course to see how hard it would really be to pull them both off. Angela and I left work early one day and we decided to drive to the park where the race would be and do a trial run.
We didn’t know the course – all I knew was that it eventually came back full circle. We didn’t know anything about maintain biking – all we both knew was riding bikes on our streets growing up. But we thought it couldn’t be that bad; I mean, you don’t ever forget how to ride a bike, right?
As we rode, the sun began to set for the evening. As it got darker, we had to get off the bike and pull our bikes through the woods because it was too dark to see. We walked for miles, lost in the woods in the middle of a small town in Tennessee; it was dark, we heard animals in the woods, and we had no clue where we were going.
All we had for light was my Motorola Razor flip-phone (which was very cool for the time). We had to use the little light that we had to see our next steps. We could not see far in front of us, but we could see the next steps (an particularly see if we were stepping on a snake). We had to have full faith that the path did indeed go full-circle like the map showed and that we would eventually end up where we wanted to be. Angela, who was walking behind me had to have full confidence that I would lead her to our destination.
It was not easy, in fact it was one of the hardest physical events Angela and I have done in marriage. We were scrapped up because of briers, our muscles were sore, and our emotions were tired. But in the end, we made it back to our car and that is the last time Angela and I have ever tried to go mountain biking.
I have thought about this story so much over the past five years. How often is this our story as leaders? How many times are we leading people down the path that we think is right, yet we can only see just a small step in front of us? How often are we leading when all we can see is a few steps in front of us?
There are a few things I have learned from this experience that have shaped my leadership over the past several years:
- As leaders, we create a road map of the vision we want to end up at – but we have to have faith that we will be able to lead our people there and have the courage to keep going. I had a map that night in the woods, however we took some turns on our own and all I could do is trust that the map that showed the trail came full circle was accurate. We also had to keep going; even when we thought at times it may be easier to camp out until daylight. We pushed through and made it where we wanted to be.
- As leaders, we cannot see everything between the beginning and end; but we can lead confidently through the next step we need to take. All I had in the woods was the light from a 2-inch by 2-inch cell phone screen. I could see about 24 inches in front of me. As leaders, we do not get to see everything that will come up on our trail along the way. What we do get to see is what is right in front of us – the next step or decision we have to make. We have to lead through what we can see so we can take others into places we cannot see yet.
- We have to lead those behind us who trust us to take them where we are going. Angela was behind me and she could not see even the next step. She trusted me and I had to keep ‘casting the vision’ of where we were headed, what the course may look like, and asking her to believe in me. Leading with out followers is just taking a walk, but when you look behind and see people coming with you, it is your job to protect them, energize them, and take them with you to the destination.
That night in the woods was a fun early test for our marriage. I am happy to say we survived and we often look back at that story an laugh. But we learned a lot that night about ourselves that has helped us through many times and decisions in our lives thus far.
Question: How have you seen these 3 leadership principles played out in your role or in your life?