Northbound Leadership has a good ring to it. Northbound is a meaningful adjective to me and one that describes a powerful way of practicing leadership.
Northbound has its roots for me in the Appalachian Trail. I had the fantastic opportunity in 2014 to hike the entire trail (2,186.5 miles) – 14 states from Georgia to Maine. It took me 5 months (152 days from April 26 to September 24). One of the basic decisions that needs to made in taking a thru-hike is which direction to hike – the majority of hikers attempt the hike NOBO (NORTHBOUND) starting at Springer Mountain Georgia and hiking north to Mount Katahdin, Maine. Only about 10% of the hikers choose to hike the trail SOBO (SOUTHBOUND) because the weather dictates a late start (It is typically May before the snow permits a safe climb of Katahdin) and the terrain in Maine and New Hampshire is very difficult and most hikers want to gain experience before attempting the challenge. I selected a NOBO adventure and so for 5 months “northbound” became extremely meaning for me.
Of those individuals attempting a thru-hike (hiking the entire trail in one calendar year) only one out of every four (25%) will be successful. There are many reasons that hikers abandon their quest including injury, homesickness, lack of finances to continue, emergencies at home, loneliness, physical exhaustion, boredom, and a few just don’t like to hike and camp out. The first characteristic of northbound leadership is determination. Leading a team or an organization is not just a weekend campout or a 50-mile hike. To hike northbound for 5 months and to be a northbound leader takes diligence, tenacity, and perseverance.
The Appalachian Trail is a curvy path with lots of ups and downs. Thru-hikers talk about MUDS and PUDS (mindless ups and downs and pointless ups and down) as the trail goes up on over countless hills and mountains and balds. It is not a path that goes in a straight line from Georgia to Maine. In order to go north, sometimes the hikers needs to hike west and the east. To navigate the cliffs, the rivers, the natural obstacles, there are times when the hiker is actually walking south in order to reach a point where the path turns and heads back north. Second, the thru-hiker and the northbound leader cannot get discouraged if the path seems to lead away from the ultimate goal. Check the map, refer to the guidebooks, and see the big picture. A major factor in successful hiking and leading is a positive mental attitude. I loved the trail so much that I was so pumped up following the white blazes of the AT, confident that I would make it if I just followed the path.
Hiking 2,200 miles is not a sprint. A thru-hike is not a competition. Northbound hiking is a personal adventure. No one can walk it for you. There is another saying on the trail HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike). There are many who will be faster than you; some like to get up early and be on the trail at daybreak; some like to sleep in and hike longer in the day; some like to take a long break mid-day and even take a nap; some like to eat while they hiking and only stop for a tree-break (that’s trail for bathroom break). But the only right hike is a completed hike. Third, Northbound hiking and northbound leadership Is a personal thing. There are many ways, styles, decisions, approaches, and theories of leadership, but I do not think that one way fits all. In your leadership be consistent and persistent; know when to move forward and when to rest; discern when to stop and eat and when to make camp. One of my mottos was slow and steady leads to the sign (The Big Brown Sign that sits on top of Mount Katahdin). HYOH.
Speaking of Katahdin, the goal of every NOBO thru-hiker that stands at the summit of Springer Mountain, Georgia is a weather-beaten, (approximately 5 ft. by7 ft.) brown sign on top of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin in Maine. I did not think about the sign every day or every step of the journey, but it was always in the back of my mind. More often then not, my mind was focused on the goal of the next trail town, or the next state border, or the next resupply, but all of these were the important short-term goals pointing to the big brown sign at the finish line. Fourth, Northbound hiking has a finish line focus; Northbound leadership has that destination focus as well- the mission and the vision of the organization. The focus of why we do the things we do – the finish line that motivates us when it rains or snows, when we are sore and tired, when we are hungry and thirsty.
The wisdom of the northbound thru-hiker and the northbound leader involves the understanding of the zero-day. I hiked the first 19 days without a true zero-day (a day in which you do not hike at all. You find a comfortable location [maybe even a hostel of hotel] and you just rest and eat). A zero-day is a time to rest those tired legs/feet, to resupply for the days ahead, and to put as many calories in your body as you can before you hit the trail again. I discovered during my thru-hike that the concept of the Sabbath was not just a spiritual one, it was a physical one. Your spirit needs to worship and your body needs to rest. After those first three weeks, I tried to schedule a zero-day every week. Fifth, Northbound leaders need to schedule zero-days. Too much work begins to dull the creativity. Too many hours in front of the computer diminishes one’s effectiveness. Too many days without a break can break the leader down. Relax, refresh, refuel, re-energize, rest – they are the 5-R’s of the zero day.
The northbound hiker has a strategy. How many miles to hike today? how far to go tomorrow? where is the best destination for camp? how many days before the next resupply? what is today’s plan B in case plan A does work (maybe even a plan C)? I would typically plan out my week on the trail during my zero day. Then each evening in my tent I would review and revise the plan for the next day. Sixth, both a northbound hiker and a northbound leader develop a plan, consult the maps, make the best possible strategy, and always think through a workable contingency plan if things need to shift.
Lastly (it is really not the last thing, but I need to stop and seven is the perfect number) a five month-hike involves some lonely times. Most days I was so excited about hiking the trail and the adventures that literally surrounded me at every summit. But in the midst of a cold rain, or another meal of cold oatmeal, or bugs flying around my ears for an hour, the thoughts of being alone would invade my trek. Those were the times that the northbound calling encouraged my soul and spirit. Those were the times when I would remember laying in my bed at night and having this overwhelming a sense of calling to the trail. This was not just a whim, or a passing idea, or a fleeting dream, this was something I just needed to do. I never heard God’s voice, but I sure sensed the pull of the Spirit to set out on the crazy adventure – a 64 year-old-man, trekking 2,200 miles, over 14 states. And at the end of the journey, my biggest conclusion was God is Faithful. Thus, focus on the goal. Seventh, the Northbound leader must sense the call of God on his/her life to lead. The call might seem crazy; it might not make sense to most people; it might be outside of every logical box, it might be a contrary to the advise freely given by the well intentioned, but if it God’s voice, God’s direction, God’s plan, then grab your pack and head north. REMEMBER His calling, remember HIS calling , remember His CALLING.