Below is an excerpt from my book From Followers to Leaders that lays out one of my favorite metaphors—the path. The path is about the process of getting where you want to go… wherever that may be. Over the next few days, we’ll look in more depth at each stage of the path, but for today here’s the overview. It’s a little long, but worth it.
To even get to the path in the first place, the motivation has to be there to leave the parking lot. We don’t start out on the path—we must choose it. The parking lot, where we sit comfortably parked in our cars, is where we sit and decide whether we want to make the journey up the path. We could turn around and go home. Or we could hang out in the parking lot for a while. But generally the parking lot is a decision-making place, not somewhere we want to stay permanently. We can now see the terrain, at least part of it, and we need to decide if we want to hike this path.
What path do we want to travel and why? After all, there are other paths, leading to other destinations. How much effort is this going to require? How much time? Will the destination be worth that effort and time? Who will want to go along with us? Not everyone from the parking lot decides the journey is worth the effort. But those who do get out of their cars and walk over to the trailhead.
At the trailhead, we see the little map on the wooden sign. We know from experience that this map is incomplete and lacking in detail, designed only to give us an overview. All we see here are two-dimensional lines with distance markings—enough to give us a general idea of the layout, but not enough to really know what the path is going to be like beforehand.
However, the guide has appeared and begins giving a few instructions. She gives us an overview of the trail, explains where it’s leading, and describes the kind of terrain along the way. There’s a waterfall that marks the half-way point. Parts of the path will be pretty rough, apparently, and uphill. She recommends having good hiking shoes and full water bottles if we want to go forward. We look around at the others who are considering this hike. A few of them change their minds and head back to their cars. Others have to go back home for better shoes and will make the hike a different day. But some decide to go ahead and move out onto the trail.
At the beginning, our guide leads the way. We follow, matching her pace, taking notice of her technique, imitating her. After all, she knows this trail; she’s hiked it before. The guide provides some initial direction: “We are starting slow in order to get used to the altitude. Sometimes people want to start strong, but haven’t gotten used to the terrain and air yet and run out of energy before our first break point.”
Soon, the instructions taper off and we are walking alongside the guide. We begin to gain confidence; we can do this. We check in with the guide only periodically now. Then the terrain gets rougher and begins to go uphill. Some of us begin tripping on tree roots. Most of us are beginning to breathe harder. Finally, over the next ridge, a campsite comes into view and our guide calls for a break: “We’ll stop here, build a campfire and get some lunch.” Sighs of relief are heard all along the path. We need rest, we need refueling, we need a chance to catch our breath.
As we all sit down around the campfire ring, rehydrating with our water bottles, fellow journeyers begin asking each other questions: “How did you avoid those tree roots?” “How did you handle the altitude?” “Where did you get those shoes?” Tips are exchanged and adapted to the needs of each hiker. The conversation becomes sprinkled with laughter as common struggles are shared– and somehow seem less daunting in the sharing: “Oh, you struggled with that last hill too? I was afraid I’d be the only one out of shape.”
At last we arrive at the destination. We are now at a much higher altitude than where we started and the sun is just setting over the ocean. Our friends who recommended this trail were right—the view is magnificent and you can see for miles. The sky blazes with color. We all watch in silence for a few minutes as the sun goes down. Then in the dusk, we pitch our tents, build one last campfire, and celebrate. Everyone can feel the sense of accomplishment.
As we smell the marshmallows roasting in the night air, the conversation picks up energy: “It was harder than I thought, but I’m so glad I did it!” “Aren’t you glad we didn’t stay in the parking lot?” Congratulations are exchanged all around, and we begin exchanging plans for future hikes. “Hey, some of us are going to hike Pike’s Peak next month. Want to join us?” “That sounds great, but I’ve always wanted to hike the Grand Canyon. I think that’s next on my list.” “What about you?” “Me? I want to take my niece and nephews along next time and do this hike again– I bet they’d love it!”