A Man, a Ledge, and a Plan

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Patio Wisdom

In an effort to have a little fun this week, I thought I’d share a humorous little story from my childhood (you saw my #MondayMotivation Chalk Talk post on Tues, right?). This story is printed in a fun little book I did with my brother in 2015 called “Patio Wisdom,” which is full of humor and quite a bit of wisdom. My brother, aka The Patio King, was fearless. Fortunately for my Dad, he also appears to be both lucky and apparently indestructible! Enjoy this little diversion from the day’s seriousness and have a laugh on me.

Each year, Mom and Dad would pile us all into our blue 1972 Plymouth Satellite wagon and head for Colorado to escape the August Texas heat.

The trip began at “o-dark thirty” with Dad loading my brother and I onto a bed made for us in the back seat. We would drive all day, stopping at a small town on the border of Texas and New Mexico like Texline or Dumas, for a short overnight before the push into southern Colorado. We explored the Rocky Mountains, bouncing from KOA campground to National Forest campground in our Coleman Ticonderoga pop-up trailer.

There were plenty of adventures for young boys to have: exploring ghost towns, abandoned gold mines, tourist trap roadside curio shops, and even the occasional Native American pueblo or village. We panned for gold, rode horses, hiked remote mountain trails, and swam in icy mountain streams.

It was on one of those trips that I almost killed the Patio King before he could grow up, and it involved a granite cliff and a narrow trail. Well, it wasn’t entirely my fault, though I certainly had a hand in it—and not exactly a trail, either. It was kind of a ledge. Actually, it was more of a narrow crack in the rock. To me, however, it was a mountain trail heading up the cliff face for an easy climb.

There we were, on the rocky bank in a narrow ravine with a crystal clear mountain stream somewhere in the wilds of central Colorado: me, Tony, and Dad. We’d gone down to the stream to wash our hair and relax. Dad made sure each of us bathed in the icy water (hey, it was the Seventies, who knew?), and after we were clean he set about washing his own hair. In the few minutes that his eyes were closed and his hair full of baby shampoo, I spotted a crack in the rock wall opposite me and decided to see how far up I could climb. It looked like it went all the way to the top.

I told my brother to “wait here” and then started my ascent. It was easy at first and I was thirty feet in the air before I realized that the crack didn’t go all the way to the top. When I turned around to go back, there was Tony about fifteen feet or so below me, blocking my return. Just as I was about to ask Dad to get Tony to turn around, he saw us. As a father, I can now appreciate the thoughts going through his mind, but at the time I was thinking, “What’s he so bent out of shape about? I got this.”

Sure I did. Three stories above sharp granite rockfall, perched on a narrow 8 inch ledge, and unable to do anything but keep going up, we were in far more danger than we realized. You see, Tony refused to turn around, and the ledge/crack/trail was the only way down. I tried to get over the top, but couldn’t get a grip on the sandy edge. Dad kept his cool though, told us to wait, and hanging onto a pine branch to steady himself at the precipice, pulled us one after the other over the top and to safety.

It was a quiet walk back to camp. After he caught his breath, the only thing he could get out was, “Don’t tell your mother.”

We didn’t.

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Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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A Leadership Lesson in 1,000 Vertical Feet

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership
Manitou Incline
1Lt Suzanne McCurdy and me at the summit of the Manitou Incline

What does a hike up the Manitou Incline have to do with leadership?  Well, lots…for starters there’s the necessity for a person to master themselves in order to get to the top. Before a person can lead others, he/she has to see their goals, know their own limits, and most often persevere through a little pain in order to achieve something.  A tough physical challenge like the Incline is a perfect opportunity to practice those skills.

The Manitou Incline is less than a mile from bottom to top, but it’s almost 1,000 vertical feet of lung pounding, quad burning climbing along an old cog railway to an altitude of 9,000 feet above sea level.  There are plenty of chances to quit…including a “bail out” trail halfway up…and it takes between 40 and 60 minutes to make the climb depending on how hard you go.

This past Saturday, my executive officer 1Lt Suzanne McCurdy (photo, left) and I made the climb.  It was my first time up the trail and her upteenth…and with a few quick hints for making it to the top we started the climb together.  Suzanne is an outstanding athlete (and 15 years younger than me!) and I’m proud to report that she beat me to the top by a full 5 minutes.  She is in great physical condition, but the real secret to getting to the top of the Incline is determination and willingness to “suffer” a little to achieve something.

One of my favorite leadership quotes comes from Coach Tom Landry…and I was thinking about Coach Landry as I put one foot in front of the other during the climb.  He said, “The art of leadership is to get people to do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they want to achieve.”  While I wasn’t leading anyone on Saturday, I could see the summit and I wanted to be up there. I definitely had to “do what I didn’t want to do” (endure the pain) to “achieve what I want to achieve” (reach the summit). When I started, the summit seemed so far away, but with Pandora blasting some Classic Rock in my ears, and with one step in front of the other, soon I was making progress.

I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath and admire the view.  About halfway up I looked around…”Boy,” I thought, “If the view is this good here, I’ll bet the view from the top is amazing!”  That (and seeing that Suzanne was getting ahead of me!) was enough motivation to continue the climb.  When we got to the top we were rewarded with a spectacular view….but the real reward was a sense of accomplishment for persevering through the pain of the climb to reach the summit.  A leadership lesson in 1,000 vertical feet.