Leadership Insights from the Trail
Leadership Insights from the Trail

By Michael C. Mack

I’ve learned many leadership principles while riding my bikes. I try to ride either my road bike or mountain bike several times a week with a group of friends, and while my main goal is physical fitness and fun, I’ve also adapted several cycling lessons to spiritual leadership. Here are two that both deal with the importance of vision.


Keep Your Eyes on the Trail

A vital principle in mountain biking is to keep your eyes on the trail rather than what’s not on the trail. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Yet many people make this common and costly mistake.

On a group ride in Brown County, Indiana, I was flying through a fast downhill section when I spotted a large tree just off the trail ahead of me. I thought to myself, That’s a big tree. You don’t want to hit that tree. Better stay to the right of that tree . . . tree . . . tree . . .  WHAM! I hit the tree. Fortunately, the only thing damaged was my ego. As I dusted myself off and checked out my bike, I noticed plenty of trail to the right of the tree. But that tree was like a magnet; I couldn’t steer away from it. Why? It goes back to an old adage: “What you look at is where you’ll go.” This phenomenon is called “fixation” by the experts; when you focus on an object off the trail, you are pulled toward it.

It’s true for biking, driving a car, dieting, or living a blameless life (see Psalm 101:2, 3). It’s as true for me as for George of the Jungle: “Watch out for that tree!”

As leaders, we must have the wisdom to know what’s on the trail—our mission, God’s Word, the people with whom God has entrusted us, what God has called us to—and what’s not on the trail. We need to follow Solomon’s counsel: “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you” (Proverbs 4:25). “Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust” (v. 27, The Message).

There are lots of distractions that will take our eyes and mind off the path and away from the mission God gave us. And like that tree, these things are like magnets. So, as leaders, we must discern what is on the trail and what’s not. How do you know? It starts with “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and on his mission for us.


Look Up and Keep Thinking Next

Another important skill in mountain biking is to look up the trail, past what’s right in front of you. The idea is to identify potential hazards and challenges well before you get to them, allowing your brain more processing time. This is the principle of being proactive rather than reactive. Take it from me, constantly looking down just ahead of your front tire results in a jerky, stumbling ride and lots of falls. When you’re deciding what to do in the current situation, you tend to brake too much and lose momentum.

Skilled mountain bikers are always thinking next. They keep their heads up, looking at the next curve, the next uphill or downhill, the next creek crossing, the next jump. As I ride through a switchback, for example, I’ve already decided on the line to take, so I roll right through it as I’m looking at the trail coming out of the curve and beyond.

Healthy churches or other Christian organizations are also constantly thinking next—and not just the next worship service. They look up the road a ways and prepare. They grow, reach out, serve, and develop new leaders. They excitedly look ahead to “what’s next?” They  keep their momentum moving forward so they don’t constantly have to slow down or stop to make decisions.

Keeping my eyes on the trail gives me focus. Looking up and thinking next gives me foresight. Both are necessary for a smooth and productive ride as a leader. Both provide vision.

And so I ask: What most distracts your eyes from the trail marked out for you and what most keeps you from looking up and thinking next?

Michael C. Mack serves as editor of Christian Standard.

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