A few weeks ago, I was leaf-peeping in New England. It’s a sport really, and I was trying to be a professional. A few of my friends and I were hiking the Lye Brook Falls trail in Vermont at the base of the mountains. We were on a hunt for foliage and a waterfall. My goal was not to influence anyone’s journey that day, but to impact all of us. And maybe we all discovered that it’s this style of leadership that influences us most.
After ninety minutes we had hiked through streams, along narrow paths, and under a sky speckled with red leaves. I think we were all tired, and of course if you know me, you know that I was starving and hoping for a huge lunch. I have to say, our lunch that day did not disappoint.
We saw the waterfall, and I instantly thought, “I think we can get higher.” So, I threw the pack down, and headed up the side of the waterfall. Although I was not sure where I was going, I wanted to make sure that we had a great photo of our professional leaf peeping experience.
When I came down to report my findings to the group I said, “Hey, I found a great way to get up the waterfall and grab a picture. It’s safe, not too steep. I think we can all climb up for a photo.” I was excited. I wasn’t putting on my “I’m going to influence someone” hat. But after the photo shoot, I realized that everyone was looking at me. My friend who had sat at the bottom of the water fall and watched the whole experience finally said, “You know, before you went up the waterfall, no one else was willing to make the climb. Everyone was willing to stay right here and admire the waterfall from a distance. But once you found a way, they all wanted to follow the girl with the pink shirt.”
I was blown away. I hadn’t been trying to influence the group toward my goal. We weren’t going through a challenge as a team or trying to meet a deadline. I just wanted to look at the waterfall from a different spot, wanted a different perspective. It was in this moment that I realized we are all leaders and we are all influencing the team around us, all the time.
That is how leadership works. Each day that I work in different professional and non-professional environments I realize that we all have massive influence on those around us. Whether you are hiking, at your local grocery store, or leading a national movement there are people around you watching, waiting, and wondering about your next move. We influence, encourage, and pave a path for those around us sometimes consciously, but often we influence subconsciously. Our role as leaders is to live life in a way that inspires others. In my own life I keep finding that with this influence comes great responsibility. The responsibility to live well involves an iterative path of failure and success that ultimately leads to wisdom, humility, and stewardship.
This experience showed to me that how you live really matters. And when the life that we live paves new paths for those around us to have new perspectives, see new sights, and to reach their greatest potential, then we know we are leading.