In Whitehorse years ago, a gentleman shared his thoughts with me at 2am in the light of the bright northern morning. We met over dinner and began talking about leadership, the approaches, the books written and the insights gained from thought leaders around the globe. We shared ideas, challenged ideas and it opened up the opportunity to share experiences we have both had. I shared a keepsake I have from my grandmother’s youth from growing up in Rivers Inlet of British Columbia. I have a passage she gave me in my youth and I shared it with him which reads:

“Don’t walk behind me for I may not lead,

Don’t walk in front as I may not follow,

Walk beside me and be my friend” unknown

Leadership we agreed was only as strong and secure as you make the people around you feel. Power then was the ability to engage the strength of the people around you and ignite the spirit they carry for the work they do. It was about “I count – I make a difference” that supports the environment where people can grow as individuals. The thoughtful leader creates open, trusting and collaborative environments. This consciousness leads to respect, understanding and behaviors that lead to powerful conversations with people. When a leader’s acceptance in the role of providing advice and guidance emerges, greater development and growth occurs. It becomes the leaders role to embrace the opportunity to lead with the courage to walk beside and grow individuals.

My new friend was also the owner of a sled dog team and suggested I needed to think about the difference between an environment with those that just follow and those that lead. He began by explaining the set up for the sled dog team and the traits of the lead dog. Always fascinated with wolves and dogs I was immediately drawn into the conversation and curious of what this had to do with leadership. He had my interest right from the start. It was a short metaphor, yet powerful in the image created and the context of our conversation.

You are out in the forest and you have this team of dogs all connected through a harness system. They trust you and more importantly, they trust the lead dog. Now think of how your organization is set up…

“Think of the view that all the dogs in the sled team have. The view is all the same unless you are the lead dog. Everyone else is just looking at butts. When you visualize about it, not the most pleasant view. Who would you rather be, the lead dog or those following? My choice is to work smart and stay in front”

As a visual person and learner, those words have stayed with me for many years. I may have to work hard to stay in front, yet the view is amazing, completely open to what I vision it will be and I get to pick the path I choose to go.

As leaders we have choices we can make about the environments we create, the visions we share with people, the courage to do what is right and the tension we hold the harness to direct the team. As he said…be careful how tight you control the harness, they know the way.