Business Lessons from the AT (Appalachian Trail) Part 5

~Distinction, drive, learning, culture, and you

A few weeks later my son and I hiked into Damascus VA. We stopped in a camping outfitter store for souvenirs and while chatting with the owner Leafblower walked in without his signature gear at his side (he had checked into a local hostel and dropped his stuff). Recognizing him, Anthony and I welcomed him to town and the owner, taken aback, exclaimed in a surprised voice “you’re Leaf blower!?, we’ve been waiting for you to get here” You can read an earlier article written about him and his unusual hiking companion here. The last we saw of Leafblower was evidence he had stayed at a shelter along the trail. We were in the habit of checking shelter logbooks whenever we stopped and, checking the logbook at one of these shelters, noticed he had stayed there the night before, making two entries, one for himself, and one for his leaf blower.

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I don’t know what precipitated Leafblowers unique behavior and if it had specific purpose, a point, but it doesn’t really matter, he was notable, he had distinction, and he kept people talking and asking questions. The point is not to be afraid to be you, in whatever expression that is, or to champion a distinguishing quality that sets you apart, even if it’s unusual. Particularly, don’t be afraid to “do you” if it’s for a reason you’re passionate about or one which serves others.

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Drive and Mischief

We only met “Mischief” because he’d been slowed by an injury to one of his prosthetic feet, otherwise we would have never caught up to him, he was that fast. “Mischief,” his trail name, was Chris Phillips and this was his second attempt at hiking the AT, this time a northbound hike, a “NOBO” (last time he attempted a North to South hike, called a “SOBO”). In 2018 Chris, a drone photographer by profession, started off from Mount Katahdin Maine, and at 590 miles near the town of Atkins VA, slipped on a patch of ice one cold morning while getting water from a creek, hit his head, and lost consciousness, it was 10 o’clock in the morning. When Chris came to it was four in the afternoon and both of his feet had slipped into the frigid creek while unconscious, causing deep frostbite. Now a double amputee, Chris is hiking the trail again, and again he’s doing it by himself, determined to complete what he had started 4 years earlier. When we met Mischief, he was sitting on the side of the trail, one boot and sock removed, trying to repair one of his prosthetic feet. After hiking over two mountain ranges his foot prosthesis, from the lateral arch forward and made of carbon fiber, had cracked during several strenuous days of continual climbing. After introductions, water fill-ups, lunch, and duct tape repairs, the three of us were back on the trail, hiking into the next town where he had a pair of new feet waiting for him.

What does this story have to do with business? Is there a metaphor for work? Yes, it has to do with those you encounter, in the workplace and on the trail, and focusing on helping them achieve their goals instead of hiking past, only focusing on your own.

Their challenges should also be yours, that’s the true nature of teamwork and humanity. There’s a universe bonus to such an ideology. While it’s not immediately intuitive, dropping everything to help others also helps you immensely more than you could ever help yourself. Whenever two or more gather something new is created which is bigger than anyone, an encounter. And while this shouldn’t be the sole reason to help someone, that benefit will always emerge, and it’s a gift. Being in the service of others teaches lessons, and causes you to slow down, reflect, and notice things you’d otherwise have missed. Finally, our noticing of others, listening to their struggles, and learning their unique and remarkable stories, is the deepest form of a connection you can make with a person. People, most of all, long to be seen, heard, and invited into a group.

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Dr. Eric Zabiegalski
Dr. Eric Zabiegalski
Dr. Eric Zabiegalski is a graduate of George Washington University in Human and Organizational Learning and has been researching and studying leadership, learning, and change for over 20 years. Eric has been on all sides of the leadership fence from leader and manager to employee and servant and has practiced leadership and served leaders in some of the most coveted and challenging places in the world. With an early professional history as a technical expert, Eric has gone from being a technical SME (subject matter expert) to being a people SME and considers the human mind, human behavior, and consciousness to be the next great frontier for discovery. It is in this realm where he combines his technical subject matter expertise with his human sociological and organizational expertise for the betterment of individuals, organizations, their processes, and humanity. With additional interests in emotional intelligence or "EQ", servant leadership and followership, neuroscience, complexity science, creativity and ambidextrous organizations, Eric has been driven to finding the right balance of qualities, efforts and behaviors in order to not only build better high performing and learning teams but also create a better world in which to live, love, and grow. Eric lives on the Western shore of the Chesapeake Bay close to Washington DC with his wife, daughter, and Chow dog Wamu. Eric is the author of The Rise of the Ambidextrous Organization and Leading Ambidextrous Organizations, Part 1,2,3 (E-Books).

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