When my sons were young, I would always ask them to hold my ladder if I was changing a battery in one of the smoke detectors or a light bulb on one of our two cathedral ceilings. Now days, if my adult sons in their 40’s are visiting and something needs to be reached up high, I hold the ladder and they climb up to switch out the battery or the bulb. And that all seems pretty normal.
In leadership, I’ve noticed it’s not so ordinary. Instead, I see business leaders, pastors, non-profit leaders in their 60’s, 70’s and beyond still climbing the ladder and expecting all the younger people around to hold their ladder. I don’t get it. Just look at history. Two of my favorite characters of Torah-fame, are Moses and Joshua.
For many decades during their long journey, Moses had invested in Joshua. Moses entrusted him to build an army (Exodus 17:8–13); he spoke the word of God to Joshua (Exodus 17:14–16); Moses leaned on Joshua as a servant (Exodus 24:13; 33:11; Numbers 11:28); and Joshua was always nearby whenever Moses spoke with God face-to-face (Exodus 33:7–11). So when it came time for the Israelites to enter Canaan, Joshua was the obvious and prepared choice as the new leader for God’s mission.
Dr. John C. Maxwell wrote in a Leadershift devotional, “In a world that tells you to ‘get ahead’, it’s tempting to believe that advancing yourself is the best way to become a leader. Climbing the corporate ladder is just the price you pay—and people will understand if you have to step on a few fingers as you make your way to the top. Except the question leaders should ask isn’t “How far can I go?”, but ‘How far can I help others go?’ Or—even better—’How far can I take the mission, and then how can I help others take the mission beyond my best work?’“
These days, when I pause to reflect on my last 40 years in leadership, I sincerely believe that the best leadership decision I have ever made was to start developing a succession plan in my late 40’s and to implement it in my mid-50’s. While “climbing the ladder” may help you prove yourself in order to gain influence, I would counter that you take your leadership to a whole new level when you hold other people’s ladders as they begin their climb. In the organization I founded, others are taking Cape Christian far beyond my best work.
What about you? Are you holding the ladder for others? Are you actively working to invest in the leaders who will come after you? Nothing is more tragic for a leader than to get to the top of the ladder and realize you’re there… all alone. Invest in others.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
Who held your ladder for you as you climbed it to where you are now? How did their help encourage and better prepare you for what lay ahead?
Who in your life stands out as someone specific to invest in helping to climb their ladder? How will doing so help your overall mission?
I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!