Lonely at the Top? You are hiker not a Leader

Everything rises and falls on Leadership. This is a famous quote attributed to John Maxwell, one of the most respected author on the science and art of leadership and a leader himself.

Leadership is about people, without whom, there is no leadership. People are at the centre of leadership and to be leaders we have to be passionate about people. We have to transition from me focus, to us/we focus.

“Empty the coins in your purse into your mind and your mind will fill your purse with gold”

In my leadership journey, both at a personal and at professional level, over the last couple of years, I have found these elements to be important towards ensuring I do not end up as a hiker and be lonely at the top of the mountain:

Listen, Learn and Lead

Listening, Learning (and especially Unlearning) and Leadership have one thing in common, they require humility. Humility is not about diminishing our strengths or denying them, but about being honest about and owning your weaknesses, more so as a leader.

As Adam Grant pointed out in his book “Think Again” the antidote to getting stuck on mount stupid is taking a regular dose of humility. Humility is like a sponge that is able to absorb life experiences and convert them to knowledge and wisdom. Arrogance on the contrary, is a rubber shield that simply bounces off the experiences, and not only prevents us from learning but also unlearning our own dogmas and long held beliefs.

I love this quote on change and especially speaks to unlearning from George Bernard Shaw:

“Progress is impossible without change: and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

As Leaders, being able to provide a listening ear to the needs of those in our charge is critical not only to treating them as individuals, but also provides an opportunity for us to learn from our interactions with them and be able to lead them in the most effective way.

Managers try to treat and lead everybody in the same way, but leadership is about being able to value and reach out to each person as an individual at the point which they are at. The only way to be able to do that, I believe is by listening intentionally to them, sharing and appreciating their experiences, to learn truly who they are and what they value, before leading them.

Goals to Growth

Improving myself, is the first step to improving everything else.

Goals are great, but as a leader , making that transition from goals to a growth mindset is critical. Goals help us to do better and achieve something clearly defined, they are finite and are critical for growth. However, as a leader, making that transition from doing better to becoming better is critical and that is what growth does for us. Growth helps us become better.

Goals help us to do better, Growth helps us BECOME better. ~ J.C Maxwell

As we climb that mountain to the top, constantly prioritising the progress of the team and people over our own perfection and accolades ensures we focus on growth. Creating an environment and fostering a culture that is not goal focused but rather growth focused ensures that everyone in the team strives for growth – whom we are becoming both at individual and team level.

Your level of success will never exceed your level of personal GROWTH.

In order to grow, as leaders and those in our charge or following us, we must always have the humility to desire to become better, to embrace our failures along the journey and to purpose to be better than the person we were yesterday, not whom someone else is today. Being Consistent is the key to growth, growth is not a one time event, it is a daily movement and commitment to the person we are becoming without fearing to fail.

Bringing It All Together

There are two types of people who climb mount Everest, one is a group of individuals who have been known for years for their prowess and abilities and deep respect for the mountain – the Sherpas; the other are the hundreds of individuals who pay thousand of dollars to attempt this fete and mark it as an accomplishment.

Leaders need to adopt the Sherpa’s attitude, to them the climb is to help people fulfil their dreams and in the process, they are able to accomplish their higher purpose in life. As a leader, you ultimately have the ability to change and impact people’s lives. Purpose to be someone who people “want to” follow and not have to follow. Ask yourself, how is it to be on the other side of my leadership?

When those who work for us see us as someone worth following, they have a spring in our step, and show up each day. But when they are forced to work for a hiker, they are drained and that is how we end up alone and lonely at the top of the mountain. As a leader, my job is to take people with me to the Top.

So stop the hike and start leading. Happy Huduma Day to my Kenyan peeps!


Ouko Joseph is a Father and a Leader in the making. A passionate student of leadership. Learn more about me here

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