Posted by: nealchambers | June 23, 2009

Sometimes you have to lead from behind – Lessons from Mt. Ibuki

Mount Ibuki

Mount Ibuki

Last weekend, I climbed Mt. Ibuki. An intimidating mountain that towers 1377m above sea level. That’s about 4518 feet for my imperial system friends. This really isn’t much, but it’s quite a feat to do in one day. We spent about 7 hours on the mountain. We did take about an hour break on top, but other than that we were moving pretty quickly. I took along 6 students from my classes. I was the only native English speaker. This actually made for an enjoyable day.

I’d like to share some of the lessons that I learned that day.

First, sometimes you have to lead from behind

Back in my high school days (centuries ago) I used to sit in the very back of class. I was a fairly good student so teachers would inevitably ask “Why do you always sit in the back of the class?” My answer was always the same “because I want to see the whole picture. I want to see who is asking questions and who is writing on the board.”

I think most teachers in my profession think that they always have to be in front. Shouting encouragements and leading the pack. But I say it is perfectly fine to take a step back and let your students shine in the light. Sometimes the goal itself will motivate them to keep going. But just in case, you should be in the back to make sure everyone is still making it up the mountain. If someone falls behind you can help them up and get them going again.

What do I mean by this? I mean sometimes it’s good to have your students lead the class with a presentation or report and you take a sit among them. Try to see things how they see things. Sometimes in training we take a class in Japanese to show us what it is like for our students. I find these to be big eye-openers. But even if you don’t have this opportunity, you can still have a seat among your students to watch them present.

Summit of Mt. Ibuki

Summit of Mt. Ibuki

Second, set goals worth achieving

I had planned another hike a month before Mt. Ibuki. It was an easy fairly scenic walk across the top of a hill. There was very little incline or decline. It would take only about 2 hours to do. About 5 of my students came. It rained but it was fairly fun.

So when it came time to climb Mt.  Ibuki, a 6 hour hike with a 1200m incline/decline, I thought to myself – nobody is going to want to do this! But to my surprise more students were interested in Mt.  Ibuki than the previous hike.  It made me realize that bigger goals can be a lot more motivating because ‘the view’ is a lot better.

When setting goals you need to ask two questions:

Given a reasonable amount of time, can I achieve this goal?
Is this goal worth achieving for me?

Top of Mt. Ibuki

Top of Mt. Ibuki

Third, there are times when you need to lead from the front

After we made it to the top,  we discovered it was coated with ramen stands and noodle shops and yes, even cold beer.   This kind of cheapened the experience a little bit, but it was definitely still enjoyable.  We elected to eat our packed lunches and sat around a picnic table as the wind whipped around us.  It was great to relax after such a hard hike.

After about an hour though, we realized that we needed to get down the mountain in time for the 5:30p bus.  We only had a little over 2 hours to accomplish this feat and it had took a around 3.5 hours to get to the top.  We started hiking down the mountain.  We needed to go fast to make sure we got to the bus on time.  My knees ached and I was sweaty, but we had to hustle or we’d have to wait another 2 hours to catch the next bus.

I started cheering on my students and I got to the front of the pack.  I kept leading them on, even though I wanted to take a break and rest.  Mind you, I’m not a slave driver.  We did in fact take some short breaks.  However, we did keep a move on.  The whole time we had a round of ‘ya-hoos’ going, which in Japanese I guess is Ya-Ho! This kept everyone in good spirts as we made it down the mountain.

We finally made it to the bus stop with 20 minutes to spare.  Everyone was elated.  When we got off the trail there were big cheers and ho-rahs.  I was so exhausted that I got on the bus without my hiking stick.  I had to run up to the bus driver and spew out my broken Japanese to get him to stop.  But, it all ended well.  I got my stick back and collapsed in the back of the bus.

Overall, it was an amazing experience.  I recommend it to anyone that likes hiking.

I hope what I’ve learned has inspired you.  Now go out and be a leader!

This post has been inspired by an charismatic leader @burcuakyol – Thanks for inspiring us all Burcu!

And be sure to join me @nealchambers

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