Take a Hike! A Trail Map to Becoming a Great Leader

May 7, 2024 | Activate Learning | 4 min read

I’ll be the first to admit that hiking is not my “thing.” However, with four kids and a dog, I often find myself trudging through the woods with a heavy backpack full of water, snacks, stuffed animals, and bug spray. 

Recently, as the kids argued over who gets to be the leader of our own little pack, I started thinking about the idea of leadership. And how leading on the trail is not so different than leading at work. 

Much like a hiker preparing for a challenging ascent, it's important to equip emerging leaders with the right gear—skills and mindsets—to reach the summit. The journey towards leadership excellence is not for the faint of heart, but with a solid trail map and a compass pointing towards continuous learning and development, organizations can cultivate leaders that are adept at conquering new peaks. 

Let’s “take a hike” to explore this idea together.

Preparing for the Climb: Understanding Skill Disruption

Before you start walking, make sure you understand the trail and its potential disruptions. In business, skill disruption is caused by rapid technological advancements, evolving business models, and shifting workforce demographics. 

To build great leaders in this climate, your organization must first assess the current and future skills landscape, identifying which competencies are becoming obsolete and what new abilities are required to forge ahead.

Charting the Path: Embracing a Learning Culture 

Just as a trail map provides various routes to the summit, a learning culture offers multiple pathways for professional growth. To foster this environment, organizations must embed learning into the very fabric of their operations. Encourage leaders to be lifelong learners and support their journey with resources such as mentorship programs, cross-functional projects, and access to online courses and workshops.

Packing the Essentials: Tailored Development Programs 

On a hike, every adventurer's pack may contain different gear, suited to their unique needs and the nature of the trail. Similarly, leadership development programs should be tailored to address individual strengths and areas for growth. Utilize competency frameworks and personalized learning plans to ensure that each leader-to-be is equipped with the necessary skills to navigate their specific leadership terrain.

Navigating the Ascent: Adaptive and Resilient Leadership 

The path to leadership is rarely a straight line; it often involves steep inclines, switchbacks, and unexpected obstacles. To traverse this path, leaders must be adaptive and resilient. Encourage a mindset that embraces change and sees challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. Cultivate resilience by providing leaders with strategies to maintain their footing when the path gets rocky, such as stress management techniques and problem-solving exercises.

Encouraging Exploration: Cross-Functional Experiences 

A seasoned hiker knows the value of exploring different trails to gain new perspectives and skills. In business, cross-functional experiences can provide emerging leaders with a broader view of the organization and an understanding of how interconnected departments are. Encourage leaders to step out of their comfort zones and embark on secondments, job rotations, or project-based assignments in different areas of the business.

Climbing Together: Mentorship and Coaching 

Every hiker can benefit from the guidance of someone who has already navigated the path. In the journey toward leadership, mentorship and coaching are invaluable. Pairing budding leaders with experienced mentors not only provides them with guidance but also with the encouragement to keep moving forward. Additionally, investing in leadership coaching can help individuals tackle more challenging leadership terrain with confidence.

Scaling New Heights: Encouraging Innovation and Creativity 

The most memorable hikes are those that offer a new view at every turn. To build great leaders, organizations must encourage innovation and creativity. Create an environment where leaders are empowered to take calculated risks and where out-of-the-box thinking is rewarded. This mindset will enable leaders to find new solutions to old problems, keeping the organization agile and forward-thinking.

Reaching the Summit: Recognition and Reward 

The summit is a place of reflection and celebration, a moment to acknowledge the effort it took to climb. Likewise, recognizing and rewarding the achievements of emerging leaders is essential. Celebrate milestones and successes to reinforce positive behaviors and to inspire others in the organization to embark on their own leadership journeys.

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The Continuous Journey: Lifelong Learning

The summit of one mountain often reveals the range of peaks yet to be climbed. For leaders, the journey doesn't end with reaching a certain title or position; it is a continuous pursuit of growth and excellence. Encourage leaders to seek out new learning opportunities, to reflect on their experiences, and to set new goals. By embracing lifelong learning, leaders can ensure they remain equipped to face the ever-evolving landscape of their roles.

Building great leaders in an era of skill transformation is akin to mapping out a successful and challenging hike. It requires preparation, a culture that values continuous learning, personalized development plans, and an environment that fosters resilience, adaptability, and innovation. 

Your role is to provide the trail map and the tools necessary for your organization's leaders to navigate this terrain. By doing so, you'll not only help them reach their individual leadership summits, but also ensure that they are ready to lead the organization to new heights – no matter how the landscape may shift beneath their feet.

Is your organization building a learning culture that empowers leaders at all levels?