Destination Unknown

Last week, I was hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Each year I have the privilege of spending a week in a national park with a group of CEOs that I count as some of my best friends. We hike, talk, listen, and give each other honest and frank feedback. Having a dozen leaders in a group does produce some interesting anomalies, however.

RMNP was established in 1915 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act. Containing 265,461 acres and hosting over 4 million visitors annually, RMNP is one of the highest national parks in the nation, with elevations from 7,860 to 14,259 feet. In the fall of 2020, a wildfire burned approximately 22,668 acres in the RMNP. One of the hikes we took was in an area completely burned out by the fire. It was very surreal. The trees are still standing, but they are blackened and devoid of branches and foliage. The forest floor is covered in grasses and wildflowers that never appear in an established forest. And it is hot. The lack of tree foliage makes a significant difference.

The hike we were on was magnificent the last time anyone in our group hiked it—before the fire. Post fire, it was very different, and the part we intended to hike was closed. So, we ended up hiking in an area completely unrecognizable to anyone who had been there before, going to a destination we had not intended and weren’t sure about, and did I mention it was hot…

At one point, it occurred to me that this is what it must feel like to be on a team where the effort being exerted is significant and the destination or outcome is unknown. In the middle of that hike—hot, sweaty, and dirty—I found myself questioning why. Because I had no idea where we were going or what it would be like if we reached the goal, I struggled to maintain a mindset to keep pushing. I wanted to give up.

The band Missing Persons recorded a song called “Destination Unknown”. One verse says, “Life is so strange when you don’t know, how can you tell where you’re going to, you can’t be sure of any situation, something could change and then you won’t know.” Without a clear picture of where we are going and what it will be like to get there, we will find it difficult to continue struggling. Life without a vision isn’t just strange; it’s often unbearable.

This is why a significant way leaders demonstrate that they care about their team is to illuminate the vision. Illuminate means to supply or brighten with light. Imagine walking into a dark room. You can’t see anything. You step tentatively and without purpose as you grope to determine where the objects in the room are. Then imagine that someone turns on the light. Suddenly, you can see the landscape and can cross the room with confidence.

Illuminating the vision is like turning on the light. It clearly shows the landscape and identifies where the team is going and what it looks like to get there. That clear view and understanding then empowers and encourages each person on the team to step forward with purpose and to continue to push when things get difficult. Knowing where you are going improves your confidence and increases your will to overcome challenges.

If we had known where we were going and what our destination looked like or meant, the hike would have been better. Not easier, the effort still had to be given. Better in that our mindset would have helped to motivate the effort that was needed. Vision can turn a slog into a journey. When the destination is unknown, you can’t be sure of anything. Leaders have a responsibility to know where they are going and then illuminate that vision for everyone else. When we know where we are going, the journey is better, and it is the Bison Way.