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How Do You Follow The Leader When You Can’t See The Leader?

May 12, 2015

The mountain trail was an endless series of switchbacks. Often we could see no further than the next turn a dozen yards ahead. Other times we’d round an outcropping and the next quarter mile would be laid out in front of us; long, narrow, winding . . .and completely empty. Our hiking companians were no where to be seen. 

I was hiking with my son. (My 12 Year Old Son Was Much Braver Than I) I was one of two scout leaders watching over a group of twelve and thirteen year old scouts on a hike from Grove Creek trailhead in Pleasant Grove, UT to Indian Springs campground, two thousand feet rise in elevation and three and a half miles. Two of the boys were my sons. 

If you’ve ever tried to keep track of twelve year old boys in the great outdoors you might imagine we’d have a sense of uneasiness at losing sight of them for even a few moments. And yet, I hadn’t seen them in nearly an hour. But, I wasn’t concerned. 

In your company, are you the leader, or one of the followers? Today I want to talk about the followers. (Tomorrow I’ll talk about the leaders.) During our hike, everyone got to set their own pace. Some boys ran ahead. Some hiked steadily and some were back with me toiling with my ancient knees to just put one foot in front of the other. 

But, the key, and the reason that I wasn’t worried about the boys ahead of me, is that each of us was on the path. I knew that if we simply stayed on the path, we’d eventually arrive at our destination. Now, last Friday I had an advantage. The path we were on was just a couple of feet wide. To one side was a steep mountainside, that no one in their right mind would attempt to scale. To the other side was a steep drop off that was a quick, but painful, possibly fatal, trip to the bottom of the canyon. 

When my lovely wife and I would go out in public with our 13 kids, we had to figure out how to herd all those cats. It became especially difficult in crowds where we couldn’t neccesarily keep all of them in sight at the same time. We developed a process. One parent, typically my lovely wife, would be the leader. Not only were the kids to follow her, none of them were allowed to go past her. I was the sweeper. No one was allowed behind me. We knew that if we kept the kids in between us, that we’d all end up at the same place. 

Your business strategy should be that plain. It should be clear to the employees in your company where the path is. And if the employees stay on the path and don’t get ahead of the leader, or fall behind the sweeper, they are going to arrive at the place you want them to go. 

It took us several hours to make it up the three and half miles from the trailhead to the spring. My son and I arrived just as darkness was falling. The rest of the boys and the other leader already had their tents set up and were starting on dinner. 

As we walked out of the trees they gave us a cheer. Well, as much of a cheer as tired, wet, cold boys could muster. They were happy we’d arrived at the same place. However, there was really no danger of us getting lost. We just followed the path. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 

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(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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