A Real Leader

During my two summers guiding with Peak 7, I often met teens who were afraid to try rock climbing. Whether it was the height, the distrust of the ropes, or something else, each had their own reason for being skeptical of trying it. Which, to be fair, is a completely normal response for someone who, more likely than not, has no one in their life that has ever tried rock climbing. Usually, when a teen like this is scared, after much encouragement and cajoling from the guides, they can overcome their fears and at least try climbing. Our goal is not to turn everyone into a climber, but to help youth surpass their own view of what they can do, whether that means making it to the top of multiple climbs, or simply getting five feet off the ground.  

On yesterday’s climbing trip, though, I encountered something less common and arguably more precious. On a trip with the 180 Program (designed to divert young men from the criminal justice system) their leader, Dom, was afraid of heights and freely admitted that he was not excited about rappelling down a cliff. One of his teens, Bailey, was also afraid, so Dom made him a deal. If Dom went first and made it down, Bailey had to follow.

Dom slowly made his way down towards the edge of a cliff where another guide was waiting to help him over the ledge. After much deep breathing, Dom began to lower himself over the edge. When he reached the bottom, he hiked back up to the top to look for Bailey, who was by then standing at the edge of the ledge himself, accompanied by another guide.

From my position, I could only see Bailey’s face and the back of the guide’s head. He looked extremely skeptical and entirely determined not to begin his rappel. What Bailey didn’t know was that the guide helping him was even more determined that he would challenge himself, and, with Dom cheering, patiently waited and talked to Bailey until he too made his way down the face.

Dom is an important example as leader of youth. He showed me that being the “fearless” leader is not nearly as important as being a real leader, with your own vulnerabilities on the table. For the young men in the 180 Program, facing the possibility of the criminal justice system, showing vulnerability is a much more difficult task than showing toughness. In laying out his fear and inviting Bailey to join him and draw encouragement from each other, Dom communicated that being vulnerable is not a weak thing; in fact, it’s one of the strongest things he could do.