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Three leadership lessons at tent rocks

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

My view from Veterans' Memorial Overlook at Tent Rocks, NM

This article originally was published in Forbes. See it here.

About 45 minutes south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, there’s a National Monument called Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. This is a must-see if you’re ever in Santa Fe, highly worth the drive for a bucket-list experience.

My husband and I ventured out on a recent vacation because we wanted the dual benefit of a good workout and exploring something new. The area consists of two hiking trails: One is a short and easy one-mile loop at the base, while the other is a significantly more challenging three-mile (round trip) slot canyon hike with a steep, 630-foot climb and rewarding views. We went for the slot canyon hike.

The hike begins easily, but progressively gets more intense. About two-thirds of the way in, you can only proceed by employing all limbs to ascend. The trail is narrow, and with traffic moving in both directions, everyone has to take turns going up and down.

And this is where I learned three powerful leadership lessons.

Lesson 1: Pave the way for others

Words can't adequately describe the spectacular reward one receives from that climb to the summit. Pictures don’t do it justice. It is breathtaking and soul-cleansing.

Once you’ve soaked it in, you start your descent back the way you came. As we were climbing up, total strangers on their way back down would throw out encouragement, saying, “This is the hardest part!” or “You’re almost there!” or even “It’s so worth it!” as we clawed our way up.

I was struck by this. Though they didn’t even know us, they encouraged us to keep going. They had been on that path before us, and they wanted us to know it was possible, and that our efforts would pay off.

That got me thinking: Why is it so easy for total strangers to offer encouragement to their fellow climbers, but we can’t seem to consistently do this with our own coworkers? Why don't more women who have had to claw their way up in a system rigged against them take more time to encourage those who are still climbing?

What would happen if every one of us who have reached a summit would offer tips and encouragement to those who are still on the path? What’s one thing you, as a leader, could do next week that would start to change this?

Lesson 2: Yield to the ones who are more challenged

On a narrow, rocky trail, there’s little room for traffic to flow both ways. So that means we all have to take turns. Trail etiquette yields the right-of-way to the uphill hikers.

What’s harder about hiking uphill is that your vision is more limited, your focus is heightened, and your breathing is more labored. So those who’ve already been there and are coasting back down are expected to yield.

Here's the parallel to the corporate world: There are times when you struggle, and there are times when you coast. If you’re always going full-throttle, even in the times you could be coasting, how will anyone else get a chance? Think about the flow of hikers. If those coming back down never stopped and stepped aside to allow others to keep climbing, nobody else would ever make it to the top.

When you achieve success, how do you yield the way to others who are still striving for that success? How are you stepping aside so they can climb? What’s one thing you could do this week to lean more fully into that?

Lesson 3: Share the glory

Once you make it to the top, you’re rewarded with jaw-dropping 360-degree views. You can walk right to the edge of the canyon and literally breathe in the glory of this vista. Naturally, you'll want to take photos and selfies and steep yourself in it for as long as you can.

And of course, there are many others there for the same thing. How annoying is it when someone has found a rock that overhangs the most stunning view of the canyon and is sitting on it, hogging the view and forcing everyone else to modify their shot or take it with some random dude in the foreground? The longer you wait thinking he’ll move, the more annoyed you become at his utter lack of awareness.

It’s kind of like that at work sometimes. When the agency wins big awards, who gets to go to the fancy dinners where the trophies are handed out? Who actually gets a coveted all-expenses-paid trip to Cannes? When new, game-changing campaigns are launched, who gets interviewed by the trades? It’s usually the folks at the top of the food chain.

As one of the higher-ups, what opportunities are you giving your team (the ones really doing the heavy lifting) for exposure and a little basking in the glory? What’s one thing you could do this week to start sharing the wealth with the ones doing all the hard work?

The climb to the top of your trade is a lot like the challenging hike to the Veterans’ Memorial Scenic Overlook at Tent Rocks. What are the beliefs and habits that are driving you to hold on to the insights and encouragement you’ve fought so hard to earn? How can you start today to make the experience more meaningful for yourself while impacting others on the journey?

I work with many amazing leaders who want to be even better. Set up some time to chat about how we can up-level your leadership game!

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