Lesson learned: the trailblazer misses out on a great deal of adventure.
The hike was rigorous, taxing us beyond what we had anticipated. It was supposed to be one of the easier hikes while on vacation. Yet, we found the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail to be conquering us rather than vice versa. Yet, as the dad, it was “my responsibility” to be the trail blazer. I encouraged us to keep pressing on. I scanned ahead for obstacles on the trail. At times, I motivated our kids by turning the hike into a game. All the while, I simply looked at the dusty trail rather than glancing around at the breathtaking views. In contrast, my family oftentimes marveled at Yosemite Valley below or the granite cliffs rising above us. Sadly, as the trailblazer, I became preoccupied by the task thus missing out on the adventure.
Such is the case for many leaders. We are preoccupied with the task. Deadlines dominate our agenda. Leadership development becomes a constant concern. Expectations by the institution or organization apply pressure to our daily schedule. In general, leaders are responsible for charting a course, blazing a trail, encourage the troops. To be fair, leadership involves responsibility. It comes with the territory. It is the reason many people do not want to be leaders; the expectations are too heavy. Yet, it is also the reason leaders oftentimes miss out on the adventure.
It does not have to be the case.
Leaders need to create space to enjoy the adventure rather than simply drive it. It might involve taking time to reflect on the big picture – to take joy in the opportunity to cast a vision. For some, it is important to reflect on the influence of leadership, the God-given position to leverage good in our ministry or workplace. For the relational type, it is reflective moments to celebrate the possibilities of mentoring – to nurture the next generation of leaders, possibly someone to take your position. These perspectives are missed when the task consumes the adventure.
To maintain this space, it is necessary to push back the emotional triggers. When something goes wrong, it almost always (and it should) lands in the lap of the principal leader of the institution or organization. In these moments, margin gets squeezed out by the crisis. For me, the stress of the hike (the heat, potential dehydration, realizing that there was still a return leg) nearly engulfed me. I could have easily have said, “I am done.” If that would have occurred, it would have deflated all of us. It is the task of the leader to elevate morale. Fortunately, there were moments that I had the awareness to say, “The view will be amazing at the summit. It will be worth it.” Emotional triggers need to be kept at bay so that we can see the big picture and then encourage others to see it as well – to remind others of the goal of the adventure.
Lastly, it is essential that the leader engage in self-care. Truthfully, I have appeared healthy at numerous times over the years while internally dying from demands and pressures. I rationalized that external competency would get me through the moments when my soul was dry. In the end, it almost always failed. We lead from our interior life not exterior. It is only a matter of time before the condition of our soul surfaces whether good or bad. When leaders do not care for themselves, their leadership becomes inept. On the hike, it was essential that I continue to drink water, eat food, and take breaks. Sacrificing self-care would have impacted my decision-making, perspective, and ultimately my leadership.
Christ modeled this self-care by pulling back from the crowds to pray. He oftentimes slowed down to reflect on his mission, commune with God, and reside in the moment. Christ never became so task-oriented that he forgot the mission. Emergencies never consumed him. He was the quintessential trailblazer primarily because he paved the way for redemption which serves to instill in us true leadership purpose. But, he also modeled how to lead with mission while also taking time to enjoy the mission as it repeatedly states, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2)