What hiking and leadership have in common

Kathleen's love for hiking started as a child and still continues today
Kathleen’s love for hiking started as a child and still continues today

As a leader if I ever think I know it all, then it is time for a walk in the woods, with a hiking stick and rock to contemplate who I am, it is time for a leadership reality check. ˜ Kathleen Fitzpatrick

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Leadership Point of View

Guest post by Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Margaret Smiddy would say, “Kathleen, a body has to understand themselves to understand others.” Margaret Smiddy is my grandmother. She raised my dad with these values and then graciously passed them onto me. My earliest memories are spending time with her and my grandfather. They were superintendents of an apartment building just outside of Newark NJ. They were caretakers of the building and treated every tenant as though they were family, all 230 of them. They were polite and respectful of everyone they met, no matter what their circumstances were. I learned there was no color, religion or person that was better then another. Nan and Pop were whom I wanted to be when I grew up. They were adventurers, heroes to me in the way they lived their life and although they have been gone for many years they still influence my decisions today.

Nan would take me on hikes in the city along the Raritan River and we would search for the perfect hiking stick to guide us down our path. As we meandered observing the trees, the river coursing over the rocks, Nan would remind me that we’re all just one tiny piece of the world but that each of us had the ability to make a contribution in our own way. She told me stories of how Pop had saved a little boy from drowning in the very same river many years before. And how he didn’t think about his own safety but dove in while others watched from the shore. This story would lead to the next.

Kathleen enjoyed the outdoors from an early age
Kathleen enjoyed the outdoors from an early age

Years earlier when my dad was 14 years old, a jet plane crashed into the apartment building they were stewards of. The building was a blaze; in fact my dad was trapped in his room curtains burning from floor to ceiling. Pop made sure his wife and children were safe and then ran back into the building, without regard to for his own safety, to save as many of his tenants as he could. Each person was as important as his own family. Miraculously only two people died that night, and because of my grandfather’s heroic efforts many more lives were saved. My dad still speaks about that experience with tears and pride in his eyes. This happened nearly 60 years ago but his father’s unselfish act of kindness and heroics impacted his life’s purpose and consequently mine. To me these family stories taught me about respect for others, being a good steward, and that every person was important no matter who they were.

Long after Pop passed away, Nan and I would walk along the banks of the very river where Pop helped create a story for another family to cherish, the family of the boy that nearly drowned, the people that survived the plane crash. Sitting on the same rock year after year I’d listen to Nan share those stories, she was teaching me about human values, respect, honesty, joy and stewardship. For me getting out in nature helps me to realize my childhood and those stories come rushing back to me as though it were yesterday. Experiencing life in nature is like being with Nan and Pop again.

Girl Scouts
Girl Scouts

My father and mother continued to reinforce those early values I learned from Nan and Pop and took it one step further. Through Girl Scouts, church and community service work I began to define who I was. Long after my childhood I still volunteer my time to others. I know who I am and I want to guide others to be the best that they can be.

When I was 13 I have a vivid recollection of sitting just outside the shore break and watching the ocean rush up the sand. As the water retreated tiny air bubbles would surface and pop as the water rushed back to the sea. A little girl, about 5 years old, asked me what those air bubbles were. I told her, just as Nan had told me several years before; they were air holes for sand crabs. She looked at me and laughed. I knew she didn’t believe me, so I showed her. As the next wave came up the beach I dug as fast as I could until I uncovered the small sand crab, plop in the bucket he went. She sat there in astonishment; I had told her the truth. We happily dug sand crabs the rest of the afternoon and when another small child came by and asked what we were doing my young charge told the story I had only hours before shared with her. A light went off, you have to be honest about who you are, about the stories you tell, about the people you teach; people depend on you to be truthful.

It has been so many years and I wonder how many others have passed the sand crab story on. Does that little girl remember as fondly as I do that day on the beach? Everything we do in our lives impacts others, for better or worse. We have to be conscience of the decisions we make and how they impact others around us. As a leader I try to be cognizant of that very thing.

My role as a leader has been groomed and developed through all of my life experiences. As a leader I see my greatest contribution as that of mentor. As a mentor, I will help nurture and guide you to understand who you are and want to be. I want to surround myself with like-minded people. As a manager I am responsible for helping you to see the “big picture” of a task. To help you feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment. If we can’t look back on a project and together, as a team be proud of a job well done, then I have not fulfilled my obligation as a mentor.

I will ultimately be responsible for the achievement or failure of our objective, but at the core whether it be a success or not, we will glean useful information and lessons that we can learn from as a team.

There will be collaboration that will help us grow as a team and as individuals. I will not ask anyone to do anything that I myself would not do. You can expect that if “I say I will do something, then I will do it”, and I will expect the same in return. I will always treat you with respect. As such I am considerate and respectful of deadlines and personal commitments. If you make a commitment to provide a task by a certain date, I expect it to be completed. Obstacles to achieving our deadlines or commitments happen and I request that I am notified as early as possible so that we may put our heads together to come up with a collaborative solution.

I will provide you with the tools to learn and be successful, but I can only teach those that want to learn. I will actively listen to your concerns or questions and give you truthful answers and guidance. I want to continue to learn and grow with you. I have dedicated my life to continuing to develop myself as a human being. Just as I taught the little girl about the sand crab, I need others to teach me. As a leader if I ever think I know it all, then it is time for a walk in the woods, with a hiking stick and rock to contemplate who I am, it is time for a leadership reality check. Back to humble beginnings. We are all here to help one another, be each other’s advocate and as a leader it is my responsibility to be aware of that too.

About the author – Join Kathleen on a hike for National Trails Day

American Hiking Society - National Trails Day
American Hiking Society – National Trails Day

Kathleen serves on the board of directors of the  American Hiking Society and is a member of the CVL Hike Club which is hosting a hike at Horton Creek Trail on June 6, 2015 in celebration of National Trails Day.  Want a preview of the hike?  Check out this video on the Horton Creek Trail!  P.S. There are hikes across the country for National Trails Day so check out all of the different opportunities.

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