What the Inca Trail taught me about servant leaders

servant leaders

My husband and I just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.  Twenty years!!  It’s a milestone that I once thought was a fairly minor one, but I’ve learned that choosing to love and work together with someone for twenty years to make a relationship great is a big one!


We wanted to celebrate this milestone in “the Kenny way”.  That means it was time to travel somewhere new!  Macchu Picchu, Peru has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.  My grandparents visited it in the early 1980’s – not long after the site opened to tourists – and I remember seeing their pictures early on in my life.  When a friend mentioned the possibility of a trip to Peru, we quickly signed on.


You can read all about our preparations for the trip, and even a little about the trip itself here.  This was a big adventure, and we weren’t equipped to succeed on our own.  We needed help, so we chose to partner with G Adventures, who helped us navigate and conquer every step of the Inca Trail leading to Macchu Picchu.  In addition to the 9 hikers on our team, we had two guides and a total of 14 porters and chefs.  The porters did everything from carrying all the food, to setting up our campsites, to washing the dishes.  Watching this incredible team in action reminded me that…


Servant leaders lighten the load of everyone around them.


Here’s how.


Servant leaders carry your burdens.

On the Inca Trail, porters carried up to 25 kilograms of weight in their packs each day.  Each hiker could give up to 6 kg of items to be carried by a porter.  It may not sound like much initially, but every ounce gets heavier and heavier the further you go on your journey.  Just by carrying a small percentage of our burdens, we were able to accomplish more, faster.


Servant leaders go ahead to prepare the way.

Our porters were up every morning at least an hour before we were.  They prepared hot tea to give us as they woke us up each day, made breakfast, and while we were eating, packed up the campsites.  We would leave camp by 7am with the porters finishing breaking camp.  Within an hour, they would pass by us on the trail…like we were standing still!  (Well, to be fair…sometimes we were  standing still, trying to catch our breath!)  By the time we reached our next site, they would have set up camp and prepared refreshments for us.  We never questioned if our needs would be met each day – we knew they would be.


Servant leaders understand their role.

It was funny – our porters never asked us to carry their packs for them.  I’m pretty sure if I would have tried, I would end up on my back like a turtle who has flipped over.  The porters understood that what they did accomplished a larger purpose – and they didn’t resent having to shoulder the larger portion of the work.  They knew that by fulfilling their purpose, I was able to experience what I did.


Servant leaders actively find ways to support others.

Our guides did not serve as porters.  They carried their own day packs, but they weren’t responsible for the same things.  I watched many times as the guides checked with the porters, helped pack their packs, and took on other responsibilities that weren’t necessarily their own.  The guides also supported the hikers by making sure one was in the front of the group, leading the way, and the other was at the rear of the group, encouraging the slower hikers.  Never once did they make the slower hikers feel like they were a burden to the team.  Instead, they gently guided them and applauded them for their successes.


Servant leaders don’t seek the glory.

I don’t have any pictures of the porters actually in Macchu Picchu.  It’s not because I was too busy snapping pictures of the gorgeous scenery to capture their presence.  It’s because they weren’t there.  The porters actually parted ways with us at 4am – when we started our last portion of the trail toward Macchu Picchu, and they headed to the train station that would take them back to Ollantaytambo.  They had to get back and clean all of the gear so they could turn around and repeat the trip all over again with the next group.  Macchu Picchu – the highlight of the trip – and they didn’t even participate.  They weren’t concerned with what may have seemed like the “pinnacle” of the experience – they were concerned with making the experience incredible for every person who participates in hiking the Inca Trail.


I am humbled and in awe of these men who selflessly led our team on the most incredible trip I’ve ever taken.  Though they will probably never see this post, thank you.


How can you change your world by demonstrating servant leadership?


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