“I bet he’s waiting on the next bridge so he can escape the leeches”: What a hiking trip with friend

This week I returned to work following a couple of weeks overseas enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of Taiwan.

While in this beautiful country, my travel companions and I took on a 28km hike in the Yushan National Park. It was damp and slippery at times, visibility was low and there were regular warning signs about black bears, venomous snakes and leeches – we loved it!

On the plane home, a fellow traveller asked me about what I do for a living and, in trying to explain change communications, I found myself talking about the hike and how we approached the day, both as individuals and a team, to reach our common goal.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes from that day that translate into some great change communications lessons. Apologies to my friends for using your words and actions for the entertainment of my colleagues.

“I bet he’s waiting on the next bridge for us so he can escape the leeches”

In any challenge or change, different people are going to feel comfortable with different levels of risk. It was the first hike for one of my mates and he was not a fan of leeches (who is ha ha). That said, for me, someone who had grown up going on adventures in rainforest type areas, leeches weren't as much of a concern. I was more preoccupied with building trust in my new hiking shoes after slipping a few times on the mossy ground and rocks.

The point is, that each of us need different levels of comfort and reassurance to reach the same end goal. For my friend to move beyond the threat of leeches, he walked at a really fast pace, stopping to wait for us on the allegedly leech free bridges over the ravines along the way. After a slip on a particularly thin part of the track, I took it a little slower, preferring to tread a steady path.

In any change project, it’s important to understand that even if you have a shared goal, team members may need different approaches, equipment or information to get them across the line. Recognising the diversity of needs in your team is the first step. Speaking with people prior to “the hike” to ensure they have what they need to feel comfortable progressing is the essential next step.

“Let’s all do the last few hundred metres together so we arrive at the top as a team.”

Our group had two very different paces. Three of us liked to pace it out and walk quite quickly. Two of us liked to take it a little slower, chatting as we went. I think you can guess which group I was in.

Early in the day, as we were getting a feel for each other’s way of approaching it, we walked quite closely together, chatting and taking photos as we discovered the beauty of the trail.

As we got into our groove, the two groups moved a little further apart, with those of us in the second group grabbing glimpses of the advance party as the cliff path curved left and right ahead.

What I loved was that while everyone was walking at their own pace, the front group, or part of it, stopped several times during the day to check in on the second group before heading off on the next leg of the hike.

This included stopping a few hundred metres ahead of the summit to regroup. Regardless of how each of us had approached the first 14 kilometres or so, we were rising to the top as a team so we could celebrate the half way milestone with a high five, group photo and lunch break.

It really emphasised to me how important it is to bring people with you on a change, acknowledging different skill levels and experience, as well as how motivating it is to celebrate success along the way.

“I think it was both a peak and a pit for all of us”

On the last night of our trip, most of the group went for dinner in Taipei. At dinner I asked each person what their pit and peak of the past ten days or so was and why. That is, what was the best part of holiday for them - the “Peak” - and the most challenging - the“Pit”.

What was interesting is that everyone in the group, from experienced to novice hiker, named the 28km hike in Yushan National Park as one of their peaks.

We talked through the challenges – from cuts and bruises to swatting away leeches and being exhausted at the end of the day and sore the next – and, even though there were a couple of moments where members of the group were over it while we were in the middle of it, every single one of us listed it as a peak.


Because we each finished that day with a sense of personal achievement as well as a shared sense of achievement. We did it and we did it together.

I think this highlights an important point from a change management perspective. There will inevitably be difficulties to overcome on the path to change – some foreseen like the overall distance to hike; others unforeseen. I will never forget the looks on each of our faces when a group of local hikers we passed on the way was shrieking about a seemingly plague of leeches ahead of us.

But, it is getting through those challenges together that can make achieving the end goal even sweeter.

That and a long shower and a beer.

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