Leadership is a journey, not a destination. However, few leaders embark on the type of journey that leads to greatness. That journey is best described as a pilgrimage — a leadership pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage is a journey with a purpose that requires vision, focus and perseverance. During a pilgrimage, each pilgrim shares a common experience: enlightenment through solitude and sacrifice.

Wanderer Versus Pilgrim

In Latin, “pilgrimage” means “wandering over a distance,” but wandering is not what most of us imagine when we think of a pilgrim. Instead, most of us envision someone who journeys to far-off lands with a deep sense of direction and purpose. Wandering is more like what Alice did in Wonderland when she asked the Cheshire Cat:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where — ” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“ — so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Regrettably, Alice’s type of wandering is what too many of us, as leaders, seem to find ourselves doing! True reflection and focus are rare today, especially among leaders. However, they are not be rare in great leaders.

Leading With Purpose

Far too many of us do not deeply consider where we might end up. Just as Alice could have taken a more purposeful journey, we should travel with more focus, perseverance and purpose.

In the Bible, the Book of Amos describes people staggering and wandering from sea to sea. If we were to interpret this passage as leadership advice, it might read, “Leaders wander from job to job, project to project and task to task, unable to find leadership enlightenment, wisdom, purpose, truth or direction.”

Most of us would never claim that we have too few things to do in a day. We fill up our days with tasks, meetings and projects — some important and some not. We are busy, and we feel productive when we are busy. However, few of us consider why we do the things we do. Since we are busy and our days are full, we believe that we are effective. Like Alice, if we just keep doing what we are doing, we are bound to get somewhere! Yet do we ever question whether we are going in the right direction? Are we doing the right things — the type of things that lead to a purposeful end? Just as Alice could have taken a more purposeful journey, leaders should take a more purposeful journey.

Too many leaders allow obligations, tasks, demands and other people to take us on a journey somewhere — but not to the most important destinations. Demands control our journey more than we do. While some of these activities are necessary, many of them take us away from doing the things that will positively impact the  people we influence and create a meaningful leadership legacy.

Embarking on the Journey: Ask the Right Questions

The starting point for pilgrims is when they ask themselves life’s big questions: “Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose?” Similarly, leadership pilgrims should begin by asking big questions: “Who am I as a leader? Why should others follow me? What do I want to be remembered for and why?”

The analogy of a pilgrimage helps leaders understand that leadership is more than a series of random tasks and activities. Leadership is a pilgrimage. On a pilgrimage, pilgrims share a common experience. So too, a leadership pilgrimage can transform how you lead, who you are as a leader, the things you do, and the impact you can have on the people you lead now and into the future.

We all can start our leadership pilgrimage by setting aside time for reflection — time to think and to ask what we should be doing and where we should be going. Unfortunately, today, silent reflective time may seem like unused or wasted time. Like pilgrims who cherish reflective meditation, sacrifice and soul-searching, leadership pilgrims must value introspection, reflecting on their core values and beliefs, direction, vision, goals, grit, and inspiration in order to magnify their strengths and their teams’ strengths as they journey toward leadership excellence.

Alice asked an important leadership question: “Where ought I go from here?” It’s a question all leaders must answer — but, like Alice, too few can. Clearly answering it is essential for both leaders and the people they hope to influence and lead.