The Ladder – Part 1
David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer

Ladders are wonderful things. They allow us to attain heights that would otherwise be out of our reach. They come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, and yet they all serve the same purpose. We have all heard it said that people climb the ladder of success. I have also heard it said that one of the saddest things is to spend your entire life climbing the ladder of success, only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall. The key to that statement is, we need to know what is important to us as we start climbing. For those of us who are leaders, we have done the hard work and constructed stable ladders that have allowed us to grow personally and professionally with each step. Our ladders have allowed us to attain heights that would have been out of reach without the ladder. What now? Is there more that we should think about? Yes, much more. It’s time to help others with their ladders.

Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen farther than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In his book LeaderShift, John Maxwell identifies four ladder stages:

  1. Ladder Climbing – How high can I go?
  2. Ladder Holding – How high will others go with a little help?
  3. Ladder Extending – How high will others go with a lot of help?
  4. Ladder Building – Can I help them build their own ladder?

Ladder Climbing – It’s not a bad thing to want to climb a ladder. Our credibility rests in our achievements. Without a track record, why would anyone want to follow us? Speaker Glen Turner once said, “The hardest challenge of getting to the top of the ladder is getting through the crowd at the bottom.” So many people stand around, looking at the ladder, and never take the first step. It’s as if they are waiting for someone to just lift them up the ladder. Well, we all know that’s not how life works. As a leader, look for those who are showing the initiative to climb. Help them find what Liz Wiseman calls their native genius and help them build a plan that has them climbing daily.

Ladder Holding – Think back to a time when you had to climb a ladder that was on uneven ground. Were you a little scared? Now, how did it feel when someone held and stabilized the ladder? How much higher were you able to climb? The fact is, there is no such thing as a self-made person. If we are honest with ourselves, there were people who came into our lives and held the ladder for us. They may have actually wanted more for us than we wanted for ourselves. They saw something in us. They were available when we needed them. They steadied the ladder when the ground was uneven. They encouraged us to climb daily rather than giving in to our desire to stop. Now it’s our turn. Who do we see that needs some ladder holding?

If we want our organizations to achieve great things, we need to transition to the next ladder stage. Better yet, we should be employing all four ladder stages. If you would like to dig deeper into this topic, please join Marisa Norcross and me for Episode 195 of The Next Page podcast as we discuss in-depth Ladder Climbing and Ladder Holding.

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