Rather as Lady Macbeth could not clean the blood off her hands in her dream, a leader carries the responsibilities of leadership at all times and in all places.
About 10 years ago, I was asked to assess a potential expedition leader who wanted to work for one of the major expedition companies. We spent 3 days together with a group of trekkers in the Peak District who were preparing for a month in Mongolia. My job was to observe the candidate as he led this group through a long-distance walk and wild-camping experience.
My role as an assessor involved introducing a few scenarios to watch his responses. One of these involves hiding a member of the team after a break to see whether he would notice a missing group member. He didn’t and the group walked on for so long that I found it necessary to point out his omission. I was struck by his reaction to this, ‘you can’t be on duty all the time, can you’. My answer was simple, ‘yes, you can’.
In June this year, I led a trek in Morocco. The first morning was a beautiful clear day. We had enjoyed a delightful breakfast on the roof of our Riad in Imlil. I checked the team was ready and we walked down the narrow path to the main track below. After about a minute, I started counting the team members to double check we were all present. It turned out someone was missing. I stopped the group, ran back and collected Anna, who was still sitting on the steps, tying her shoelaces.
I remembered the candidate in the Peak District and thought about the fact that, for various reasons, I felt he was not ready for the responsibility of managing people’s lives in remote parts of the world. Now I found myself questioning my own skills: I have led over 40 international expeditions and have never made that mistake before. I’m glad it only took me a minute to notice the missing person, but it was a stark reminder of an eternal lesson: the leader is never off duty.