A Leadership Lesson in 1,000 Vertical Feet

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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.