The Fifth Rung: Discovering Your Destiny

If a leader has made it this far up the ladder then they have remained focused on the goal. Reaching for and actually pulling one’s self up to it is a great accomplishment. To get there has taken all the leader has to accomplish the task. Here at the top the leader is to realize his or her future.

Others get to share in that breakthrough when the leader climbs up the character ladder. The achievement should be shared because the leader did not climb the ladder alone. Here at the top of the character ladder, is a place for all who followed that leader’s ascent. A greater award awaits the one who climbs the longer ladder.

Climbing the longer ladder with a leader’s character still in place is the best choice. It may have not been the easiest choice, but still the best. This happens at the right time though. At the top of the ladder, God reveals Himself. The leader has hopefully relied on God’s timing and not their own ability to ascend.

The joy of reaching the top is a great accomplishment. The celebration of that moment when it happens is a great thing. Much like a sports team winning a championship. Not only will the team enjoy that moment, but also all who helped and supported them will participate. The difference at the top of both ladders is how it happened.

While reading this chapter, I thought of all the athletes who play at the professional level. It doesn’t matter what sport they play the results are still the same. The individual’s leadership can be known. Some athletes have gone on to break individual records and could not accomplish it alone. It takes many to help them ascend to the top.

I have learned that it takes people to help the leader ascend to the top of the longer ladder.


Thrall, Bill, McNicol, Bruce and Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.


Chutes and Leaders: Stories from the Fourth Rung

Character is developed by our response to a failure rather than the failure itself. After a leader pays the cost of leading growth occurs. This is the area that God himself looks at and seems to care for most. It is in this area that the leader may fool others, but he or she will not fool God. This is the real test area for the leader. It’s the little details that help make a difference.

Much like Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, leaders need to care about the tiniest details because God is concerned about every part of our lives. It is here that the leader’s true character shines. In some many cases it looks dull and unpolished. Either way he or she has to decide if all the misery that may occur in at this point of the climb is worth the risk of moving to the top.

When a crisis of some sort happens close to the top of both ladders, the leader can over come the most difficult challenges. If knocked off the ladder and to the ground they need to get back up and climb again. God can work through the leader’s character and rebuild it through humbleness. Successful growth through this fall can be achieved because God is involved. Focusing on the purpose can help in a quick recovery.

Think of the great Christian leaders who have suffered and experience failure. Some get back up whereas others seem waste away into the history books. Many times in my own life I have failed miserably. Some hurt so bad that I pray will never be mentioned again. However, I know that each one happened and can serve for a greater purpose in my own leadership.

As I stay focused on my ultimate goal of serving God and making his name known, I am encouraged to know that Christ will always be there for me when I do fail. I am now able to see that the farther a leader is up on a ladder the farther he or she has to fall. However, the farther that leader is up the ladder the closer they are to the top.

I have learned to get back up even if I have to restart more often than actually reaching the top.


Thrall, Bill, McNicol, Bruce and Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

The Fourth Rung: Paying the Price

The story of a firefighter unable to climb because fear is a great example of what leadership can do to some people. It’s when the leader has almost achieved the top of the climb and fear sets in paralyzing them. Finding out who the leader is and what they are made of can only be found out when things get tough.

During difficult times, the leader is tempted to do something drastic. They may freeze like the firefighter in the story or decide to come back down and start again later. They might even give up on this ladder and decide to go back to what seems like an easier climb. Lastly, they might just decide to take that one last step and climb to the top. The ultimate decision is made in the leader’s mind.

It is a decision. When things get tough a decision is required. Staying in one position is still a decision. It is at that point that the leader needs to come to terms with their belief in God. When the leader recognizes that it is possible to look outwards. God will usually choose to use those around him or her to help.

I remember back to the ladder I had to climb up in order to paint at the top. Trusting at the bottom wasn’t very difficult because I was close to the ground. It wasn’t even tough to stay up there on the top and paint. The toughest part of the climb was when I was almost to the top. That’s when the ladder shook the most and fear became a real factor in my life.

In order to paint the top, I had to get to it. That was my focal point. I had to realize my purpose was to paint the very top of the house. To get there, I had to use that ladder and trust it would hold me. This chapter is about focusing on the top in order to successfully conquer the ascent. The ultimate goal of both ladders is getting to the top, but the character ladder comes out to be the best one to climb because everyone gets to celebrate with you.

I have learned that I must consider the cost of leadership as I reach for that last rung.


Thrall, Bill, McNicol, Bruce and Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

The Third Rung: Aligning with Truth

Vincent van Gogh. He never learned to trust God. God chose to speak through those closest to him too. We need to listen to those close by. God himself could be speaking to an individual simply by using his or her own advice. It creates a need for good listening skills. There is an act to proper listening though.

Listening appears in both ladders. It is a correlating theme of the two. With those who choose to climb either ladder must first come to the understanding of the need for input into their lives. People are in need of love. Though both ladders deal equally with the listening skills they do have differing concerns.

They differ on the line of truth. The capacity ladder is concerned with the results of what a person does whereas the character ladder’s main concern is with who they are. The truth of interconnecting as human beings appears in the character ladder only. Each person needs others leading them, standing by them, and being led by them. All of that is encompassed by one’s ability to trust people. When trust is present the individual will find the road to being fulfilled in who they were created to be.

Think of going to a chiropractor to get a spin adjustment. God makes all things healthy again by giving us spin adjustments every so often in order to keep us moving up the ladder of character development. When we stop doing things the way God intending them to be done, we lose site of what it means to be created beings. How we treat others may have a correlation of how our relationship with the Living God is going.

God intends for us to stay connected with others. He never intended for us to be alone. A great example of that was with the first man, Adam. God’s first created human longed for companionship. At that thought, God created a partner for him. Based on that story we should know not to be alone. Leadership seems lonely at times. God did not intend it to be that way though.

I have learned that I need others in my life.


Thrall, Bill, McNicol, Bruce and Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

The Second Rung: Choosing Vulnerability

Isolation can destroy community. For the leader, isolation can be enticing though. It has an attraction much like a magnet has to metal. The authors relate isolation to being in a blackened forest. The leader can feel disconnected from the world around them simple by being disillusioned. It can entrap them to remain alone. The leader may feel that they are all alone and that their followers cannot relate with them. This destroys their leading commitment.

The second step of this climb teaches the leader to remain connected with others. The leader must be willing to be susceptible to other people. To that he or she must deal with influence. Not only does the leader have influence, but people too have an influence on that individual. When there is a balanced influence, the leader will come out of the isolation.

Coming out of isolation is hard to accomplish because the emotion of fear is present. Fear must have its proper place. It cannot be at the forefront of the battle. The leader must be sure of the ability to lead. It comes with the territory. The leader must be willing to be built up by other’s strengths. Trust is the ability to be vulnerable. The climb is taking one step at a time. The climber must step on the first rung before they step on the second.

This visual image of someone taking his or her first and second step up the ladders is great. I remember many times climbing a ladder. The worst experience was when I had to climb a really old wooden extension ladder to paint the very peak of a two-story farmhouse. It was the only ladder long enough to reach that high. Not only did I have to climb it, but also I had to carry a paint can and brush in my hands. I remember taken one step at a time. It held me and I was able to paint the top part of the house without falling.

I had to trust each step. I also had to be vulnerable to it as well. With each step I had made myself vulnerable to falling. The same applies in leadership. I must trust others and be vulnerable to the input from others in my life. I must also keep fear in its place.

I have learned that I will succeed as a leader when I start to step out on the trust of others and remain vulnerable to them.


Thrall, Bill, McNicol, Bruce and Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

The First Rung: Stepping Up Through an Act of Trust

This is the construction stage of the book. Thus far, the reader has read about the need for change and now change needs to take place. This happens when they learn how to make those changes and the leader starts the ascent up the proper ladder of success. With all the preparations made, the climb begins.

This climb must begin with values. Those values fall under the subject of faith. The leader must have a core value system of strength in God rather than any in their abilities to succeed. It all takes place in the heart. Not only will blood need to be pumped through this muscle as they make the trek up, but motives must be pushed through with each heartbeat.

Within each movement of circulation, the person’s character is meant to function properly. There is a risk that needs to be taken though. The risk here is that of rejection. The leader must be humble and willing to trust the Lord and the people around them. When this is acted upon, the leader has taken the first step to climbing the character ladder.

The leader’s first step comes with a cost. It’s imperative for the reader to reflect on his or her own experiences in order to construct it. It is then that they can put the character ladder together. It’s much like becoming a disciple of Christ. We must consider the cost of following after Jesus. Our journey of discipleship means we must ascend towards Heaven.

Moving towards Heaven means that we have a proper understanding of one’s own value system. Our character is a reflection of our faith in Jesus. It should be the Christian’s desire to be transparent before God and others. When we accept Jesus we have become leaders. According to the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20 we are all to lead others to Christ and make disciples for the Kingdom of Heaven.

I have learned that I need to lead with the value of trust as I climb the character ladder.


Thrall, Bill, McNicol, Bruce and Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Nurturing Relationships That Ground and Sustain Us

The Character Ladder. Here the authors start putting together this leadership ladder. They do so by looking closer at the work place. They deconstruct the capacity ladder by looking at the fact that people were created to have their needs met. God meets their needs through other’s influence. Ultimately though, people need help to deal with their problems. People were not created to live isolated lives, but rather in community with others.

As humans, people were created to share in each other’s lives. In this territory, experiences can be good or bad. The character ladder best includes community. People grow when their leader climbs this ladder. However, it is possible to include the capacity within the framework of the character ladder. To incorporate the two there must be community. An atmosphere of teamwork must be created.

Within the structure of community, people must feel accepted. In order to feel accepted, the leader must create a place for people to use their gifts and talents to find fulfillment. Acceptance cannot be given and received conditionally though. When people are affirmed, there is an excitement that creates commitment. This all happens under the values of honesty and truth.

There is a real concern here chapter 4. My concern is not with the information, but with the application. I fear that many who read this chapter will not change. There is life within this chapter. It is my prayer that the Christian workplace could apply these truths.

It has been my experience working in the church that many have forgotten what it feels like to be loved and affirmed in the use of their gifts. Too often many have been condemned because they have served God and others simply by using what God gave them.

I have learned to use my gifts in my relationships.


Thrall, Bill, McNicol, Bruce and Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Creating Environments That Uphold and Empower Us

Many people show up to work on time, do what they are supposed to do, and do their jobs without any real growth. When this happens it can create a very discouraging work environment. It seems that companies have hit a flat level in their growth period when everything is status quo. It comes to a point of motivation. In this post, the work culture is discussed. It’s about inspiring others under one’s leadership. For the follower to reach above their current level of existence is a difficult thing to accomplish. In order for a leader to achieve that level they must see the big picture. It consists of what they want their work culture to look like that. To do that though, they must first study their work place.

Growing is not based on any principle that resembles a machine. People are living organisms and must be treated as so. The leader must recognize some obstacles that might be blocking growth. For example: there may be a lack of leadership trust that needs to be addressed. An attitude of grace may need to be applied to the current situation.

To explain the grace factor, the authors introduce and illustrate it appropriately. This ladder is structured with grace. On one side there is the environments of grace and on the other side there is relationships of grace (p. 32). The work culture is a result of the people who create it and live there. People are linked together through relationships. They are interdependent upon each other. This happens when the leadership makes a choice to climb The Character Ladder (p. 32). Making this choice to climb it encourages common respect of others.

It was difficult to narrow this chapter down. There is a huge amount of important information between chapters two and four and could have been broken down into two chapters. This has been the most important chapter so far. I might even goes as far as to say it might be one of the most important chapters in this book because it requires the most change in a person’s leadership style. It gets the reader thinking about and changing their current paradigm of how they look at leadership.

I have learned that I need to pay more attention to my character rather than my capacities.


Thrall, Bill, McNicol, Bruce and Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Big Leaders on Short Ladders

Again, the authors start a chapter with a story. This story is about a leader in despair as he looks over his life and all the wrongs that have happened to him. Success is a surface fixture in a person’s life, but the true character is inside. On the outside this man looked to be successful, but inside his life was falling apart.

At a well-known Seminary on the West Coast there was a study conducted to find out how leadership can have a positive affect. Most leadership fails. It comes crashing down because the leader stops learning, their integrity is gone, they compromise core beliefs, they leave nothing to be admired, they forget about others, and their relationship with God dies. At this point in the chapter, The Capacity Ladder is introduced.

This illustration has four steps to it. The first takes place when the leader determines things they are able to accomplish. The second step is improving their abilities to lead. The third is the desire for rank. Lastly, the leader found climbing this type of ladder looks at their possibilities. Whoever chooses to climb this type of leadership ladder is ascending to promote self at the cost of others.

The authors did a great job describing this type of leadership. Again, I love how they weave through stories and illustrations to make their point. Here they introduced a drawing of a ladder. Examples like this add to my learning capability. I appreciate their willingness to include examples like this one.

They did a good job introducing The Capacity Ladder (p. 17). Not only did they describe what this ladder consists of, but also they drew a picture of it. Again, I learn best when I see illustrations of something described. I would go as far to say that most readers might appreciate illustrations. This ladder, much like its opponent, deals with how a leader will succeed. Climbing it will not bring the right kind of success. Unfortunately, many have climbed it thinking it was the right choice.

I have learned that The Capacity Ladder is the wrong ladder to climb to become successful.


Thrall, Bill, McNicol, Bruce and Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

A Different Ladder of Success

With an opening story of the Titanic sinking, the authors point out the captain of the ship was ultimately the blame for it’s sinking. All responsibility falls on the leader. The leader is responsible for everything within his or her leadership. The blame for hitting the iceberg and sinking the enormous vessel with all the lost lives is placed on Captain Smith’s leadership. From that story, deeper concerns arise. Every person leaves a heritage for future generations that follow. In Captain Smith’s case, his is a tarnished one.

The Ascent of a Leader was written for people who want to influence others and have an impact on their world for God. This book is for the person who longs to lead from his or her inner most being. The authors paint a graphic word picture of a ladder to describe two styles of leadership.

There is a choice for one who will lead. Each one is influenced by either of these two methods. These two methods are at opposite ends of the leadership spectrum though. Each leader must come to a conclusion of what they leave behind. Climbing up one of the two ladders of influence will have a lasting impact on others. The leader must be proactive on deciding which one they want to climb.

I love word pictures. I am a visual learner. If I can’t have pictures then I’ll settle for very descriptive stories or word pictures. Chapter 1 starts off with a story set in history. It is a leadership tragedy though. Many leaders will likely never be blamed for such a catastrophic event, a decision that went against Captain Smith’s better judgment costing the lives of many.

Since the authors used a story to start the book off, I found myself looking for the point they wanted to teach. They are good storytellers. At times, a leader must look below the surface to find the problem or solution. It’s those things below the surface, such as icebergs, that cause the most damage. In the case of the Titanic, the destruction happened below the water’s surface.

I have learned that true leadership lies below the surface of any leader.


Thrall, Bill, McNicol, Bruce and Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.