In 2001 Erik Weihenmayer reached the peak of Mount Everest — an impressive feat in-and-of itself. But one thing should be noted: Erik is blind. I first learned of his story several years ago, and was reminded of it thanks to a recent story on NBC’s Today Show.
But Everest is only part of the story.
In 2005 Erik became the first blind climber, and 1 of only 150 total climbers to have completed the Seven Summits. He has scaled the Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite, ascended Losar, a 2700-foot vertical ice face in the Himalayas, and kayaked the treacherous whitewaters of the 277-miles of the Grand Canyon.
Did I mention that Erik is blind?
In 2005, he co-founded No Barriers, a nonprofit organization with a most appropriate brand tagline, “What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.”
Individuals who inspire us — those we might be persuaded to follow — possess a unique perspective.
When eulogizing his fallen brother Robert, Ted Kennedy referred to Robert’s own explanation for the way he saw the world — “Some men see things as they are and say Why. I dream things that never were, and say Why Not.”
This is vision of the highest order. It is the ability to see through barriers — even the barrier of the unknown. It’s the way we see the world when unobscured by fear, synicism or out-right self- interest.
Without respect to title or station…in offices and homes, at work or play…the women and men who inspire us to listen and follow have this view of things.
Even if you’re not at the peak of a mountain, you can tell you’re in this rare air because a lot less time is spent focusing on all that is wrong. Things are seen through the imagination — the mind’s eye. Reasoning around why not is an organic response…even in the face of unimaginable challenge.
This is the perspective of leadership — and it is where creative thinking and innovation find footing. In this environment, we have a shot at discovering real solutions.
It’s not that leaders ignore problems or challenges. It is that leadership embraces a perspective that transcends what is staring it in the face.
Not all the time. Not in every situation. And certainly not to an elite few. At times a leader’s way of seeing things comes in an awkward instant to the most unexpected among us. (Every parent knows what this is about.)
It is this transcendent brand of vision that sees around roadblocks…and charts the course for great human adventures — in moments on Everest, no doubt; but more to the point, wherever a path is chosen and a first step taken — at home, in your office, anywhere.
It may be human nature to spend most of our time on the realities we face. If my boss would change this…if my partner would fix that…if the others on the Board just knew what I know…if we didn’t have to contend with all of these old dinosaur ideas, we could accomplish so much more.
We analyze all that is wrong…pontificating on why we’re in the fix we’re in. And before we know it, the meeting is over…the month has closed…another down-quarter has passed. The kids are grown…and gone. Why did so much conspire against our dreams? When did we relinquish leadership, and decide to follow the fearful and vision-less?
The poet T.E. Lawrence describes two types of dreamers. He said…”All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous…for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”
Leadership — the kind that inspires a team to address the impossible — spends less time wandering around the dusty recesses of the same old conversations.
Leaders envision possibilities.
And wherever we might have dreams — of relationships that endure, of fairness and inclusion, of transformative creativity and innovation, of scaling the most formidable challenges we might face — there echoes a resounding call for this kind of vision.