3 Ways to Lead So You Aren’t Just Going for a Walk

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I wrote a post recalling my experience being part of a mountain guiding team. What I learned from the hike up to base camp was, it doesn’t matter how fast I can go if the people I am with can’t keep up with the pace I am setting. If people aren’t able to follow you, you aren’t leading at that point, you are just going for a walk. Do you know any leaders like that? I sure do.

I love spending time in the mountains. Climbing, hiking, backpacking, sleeping in tents for days on end. The stillness of the evenings when the weather is calm is something you cannot replicate when you are in the city.

Anyway, over the last 5–6 years of my backcountry adventures, I have been leading or co-leading teams of folks into the backcountry. I have helped with avalanche education classes, learning to rock climb, climbing glaciers and teaching folks to go off trail and learn how to scramble up peaks.

In most cases, you will leave the trailhead as a team, but if there is not any intention built into the trip, you will quickly see a separation of the group. The ones that want to go fast, and the others that are just happy to be out there. I will say as a caveat, there are times when speed in the mountains is necessary to ensure safety of the group, but other times speed can be a detriment.

I have been on a lot of trips where I was co-leading the trip or simply along for the ride. Some folks who refer to themselves as the “leader” feel that it is necessary for them to be out in front of the group setting a wildly fast pace. If the group can’t keep up, that’s their problem.

What ends up happening in this scenario is that the leader and the few fast hikers will get far ahead of the rest of the group. They will end up stopping and waiting for the others to catch up. Meanwhile, the rest of the group has no idea where they went or how far ahead they are.

A feeling of FOMO can easily set in, or some resentment of being left behind. After regrouping the fast ones are well rested because they have been waiting so then off they go, and the rest of the group feels obligated to continue even though they didn’t really get a break.

When I look at the people who just want to get there as fast as they can without considering the group they are leading, I don’t feel like they are leaders at all. So what are we to do if we are sensing the team we are leading can’t keep up with our pace?

3 Ways to Make Sure You Aren’t Just Going For A Walk

  1. Take a quick assessment of the team — It is extremely important to have a solid understanding of the capability of the team members. Before we start hiking it is helpful to understand everyone’s skill and fitness level. This helps set expectation. When you think about the front country context of this, it doesn’t need to much interpretation. Think about how you can assess the skill level of your team to accomplish the task in front of you. Then look for opportunities for everyone to shine with their strengths and build upon their weaknesses.
  2. Communicate early and often — Before leaving the trailhead, a discussion is had with everyone in the party. We go over planned break times/locations so that if the group gets separated for one reason or another we know where we are going to regroup. At each break, we check-in with each other. Getting a sense of the pace, is it sustainable for everyone, does anyone need to eat a snack, get water, etc. When I think about the projects I lead and team I am responsible for, communicating often about our progress is imperative. It keeps everyone in the loop and can identify potential issues with the work so that support can be offered if needed.
  3. Match your pace with theirs — I have found that the trips I have been on where the leader encourages everyone to stick a little closer together are much more enjoyable. We move together, break together, and can check in with each other much more easily because we aren’t too far apart. In the front country, I like to refer to this as meeting people where they are at. When I am leading initiatives or projects, it doesn’t matter how quickly I can go if the organization isn’t ready. Learning how to incorporate good change management practices into my workflow has been the best thing I could have done for myself. It calms my anxiety around getting the work done. It allows the team to voice their thoughts, opinions, and concerns. It does a fantastic job of keeping everyone on the same page.

These are just 3 ways that you can make sure you aren’t just going for a walk with no one following. I would love to hear your ideas about what you do to keep teams together and cohesive.

1 thought on “3 Ways to Lead So You Aren’t Just Going for a Walk

  1. Looking at it another way:
    1. Know Your Market
    2. Listen Actively and provide Solutions
    3. No need to hurry ~~smile


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