In Praise of Poles: Celebrating Team Decision-making.



Culture Fuel From the Trail series

This series of posts is inspired by our recent 6-day section hike of the Appalachian Trail, which you can read more about here. Each of these posts offers an insight from our experience on the trail that applies to life and leadership. Enjoy!

“So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set.”
— Exodus 17:11,12

I'm not proud of it, but it's true. It wasn't too long ago that I thought trekking poles were for sissies! That they were a sort of "trail walker" for the infirm of body or mind. I couldn't have been more wrong. Now I swear by them and have become a pole-evangelist. Here's why...

  • Balance. When you're packing, you add 20-30 pounds or more to your overall weight, altering your center of balance dramatically. Poles help immensely with keeping your balance on the trail, not to mention when you're wading a fast-flowing stream.
  • Shock. My knees bear the brunt of years of running, and I can't run more than 3 miles now without severe pain. So adding 30 pounds to the mix had me anxious at first. Especially when going downhill, the poles distribute my weight and act as shock absorbers. They allow my knees to go twice as far.
  • Stability. A combination of balance and shock, poles help lessen the effect of torsional flex in my joints, the moving from side to side that stresses ligaments. In effect, you become four-footed with poles. Over rocks and logs, the added stability is noticeable.
  • Strength. Going uphill with a pack, poles allow my upper body to get into the action. Triceps, delts, and lats all get to participate in hauling my butt up the mountain, taking some of the load off my hamstrings and quads.
  • Posture. This one might surprise you unless you're a hiker. After about an hour of hiking, the centrifugal force of swinging your arms in natural stride causes the blood to pool in your hands and your fingers to swell like little sausages. Poles keep your hands 90 degrees out from your body and happy!

If you caught the story with Moses above, you'll see a brilliant application of the "poles approach" to leadership in general and decision-making in specific. This picture of it taking three leaders instead of one to win the fight is a compelling vision for modern leaders to emulate. Just as trekking poles support and protect a hiker, so a team is more powerful than any one player. Let's apply just 3 of these dynamics to team decision-making:

  1. Balance. Effective decisions benefit from a wide breadth of perspective and experience. When results are the highest priority (rather than posturing, protecting, or politicking), wise leaders will draw from insights by all those affected by the decision.
  2. Strength. Decisions made by empowered teams (decisions by consensus is different than decisions by committee...but that's a topic for another post) are not only more balanced but stronger when challenged. The likelihood for grassroots support rises significantly.
  3. Stability. Decisions not only made but implemented by team tend to result in smoother integration into the organizational culture than decisions wielded by a sole power-broker. This minimizes the change stress often associated with new decisions.

So grab your poles, cultivate your team, and trek on!

Posted on May 6, 2014 .