Up and down Yukon’s ‘leader ladder’

Mayor’s Breakfast speaker urges audience to be rungs, not wrongs

Ray Sanders speaks to the audience as Chuck Scroggs of Patriot Garage perches near the top of the “corporate” ladder during the 2023 Yukon Mayor’s Breakfast. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

Many in the audience at the 2023 Yukon Mayor’s Breakfast have been carrying around a “leader ladder” through their life’s journey.

“Maybe it’s a duffel bag for you, maybe it’s a briefcase, maybe it’s a diaper bag, maybe it’s a gym bag, maybe it’s a ballet bag,” guest speaker Ray Sanders told attendees.

“Everybody in this room today is carrying a ladder around. And what do we try to do? We want to continue to climb up it. Oftentimes, when we get to the top of that ladder, we realize we’ve sacrificed so much – we’ve sacrificed our family, we’ve sacrificed our friends and we’ve sacrificed our health. Why?”

Sanders focused on the analogy of rungs in a ladder during his 35-minute message to local community, business and religious leaders at the April 28th prayer breakfast.

“I travel a lot around the world, and I see a lot of different types of ladders,” the Yukon native said. “As we walk through life, there’s all kinds of ladders – they come in all shapes and sizes.

“Ladders have been a big part of our life from the very beginning. We’ve been climbing these ladders since early, early on.”

Metal, rope and bamboo ladders of ascending sizes were positioned on stage during his uplifting presentation.

Sanders called up three volunteers, one at a time, to sit and stand on the ladders – Yukon Fire Sgt. Valen Little, Yukon business owner Chuck Scroggs and Yukon pastor Woody Burpo.

They represented several phases of life – from the crib through school – and on to the corporate ladder.

On the side near the top of all the ladders is the warning, “Danger.”

“No one tells us early on that the closer you get to top, the more dangerous it gets,” Sanders said. “Once you get to the top, there’s only one place to go. Down.

“I’m in a roomful of leaders. And what you know is, it gets very lonely at the top. Who can you trust? Who can you talk to? Who are the stakeholders? Who are my board members?”

Sanders is the founder of Coaching Leaders, a revenue-generating firm that helps CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners navigate the challenges and opportunities they face when seeking to grow their companies and strengthen their leadership teams.

The 1981 Yukon High School graduate has grown multi-million-dollar organizations, advanced national and international brands, led an award-winning financial institution, served in a nonpartisan role with the U.S. Senate, and pioneered initiatives to bring clean water to remote regions of the world.

Sanders has worked with many leaders – including business executives and pastors – who have shared with him how lonely they are and how they have sacrificed far more than they wished they had.

Woody Burpo, lead pastor of Family Church in Yukon, climbs one of the ladders on stage inside the Dale Robertson Center. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)
Canadian County Commissioner Tracey Rider (left) and District 60 State Rep. Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon) join other community and business leaders to bow in prayer. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)


The Yukon Mayor’s Breakfast speaker challenged attendees to be a rung – not a wrong – in the lives of those they meet.

“In every leader’s ladder, there are rungs,” he said. “But every leader’s ladder also has wrongs.

“Who are the rungs in our life? They are the heroes, the helpers, the healers, the influencers that help us get to where we are. We all have them in our lives. There’s a lot of them in this room today.”

There also are wrongs in every leader’s life, Sanders pointed out.

“Those of the people that hurt us, they harm us, and they hinder us,” he said.

Sanders shared with the audience some details about the difficult and abusive family life he had growing up on Poplar Avenue. He was away from his dad, who went to prison, for 35 years.

It was through some often-terrifying experiences that Yukon firefighters, police officers and a neighbor named Mr. Brown became heroes (rungs) in Sanders’ life.

Another rung was his Yukon basketball coach, Daniel Wilson.

Sanders had little confidence as a “b-team” forward when he had an embarrassing mishap dribbling the ball near the end of a blowout game against rival El Reno.

“I was deflated. I was down. I was defeated,” he recalled.

A turning point in Sanders’ life came a few days later when coach Wilson put his arms about the young player and told him to maintain a positive attitude and keep fighting – and he would “be something someday.”

“The power of a coach; the power of a rung,” Sanders related. “The power of somebody who will believe in you in your lowest, lowest moment.”

Ladders are meant to be climbed up, according to Sanders.

“But the greatest leader that ever lived – the Savior – what did He do?,” Sanders said. “He climbed down. He came down from the highest point and He said, ‘I come to serve, not to be served. I come to be a rung’.”

Sanders told Canadian County leaders that their ladder may be filled with “baggage” caused by people who have betrayed them in their professional and personal lives.

“It’s hurt you,” the speaker said. “They’ve harmed you. They’ve hindered you.

“Today might be the day that you realize, in your leader ladder, ‘it was a wrong, but I’m going to turn that wrong into a rung’. That’s kind of what Jesus did in our life, right?”

Even churches, pastors and priests can be wrongs in people’s lives, Sanders pointed out.

“But the Lord has a way of turning all that around when we turn it over to Him,” he added.

Yukon Fire Sgt. Valen Little sits on the “little” ladder during guest speaker Ray Sanders’ inspiring presentation. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)
Canadian County District Judge Khristan Strubhar (left) and Special Judge Barbara Hatfield (right) visit with Yukon Mayor Shelli Selby at the prayer breakfast. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)


Yukon Mayor Shelli Selby addressed the crowd at the Friday morning prayer breakfast.

She thanked them for attending, listening to the speaker and “being those rungs for our kids and for our peers, and making a difference in the lives of others,” Selby said.

Selby, who has served as mayor for the past three years, said she considers herself a “Yukonite” even though she didn’t grow up or attend school here.

“This is my home,” she said. “This is where I serve, and I love this community. This is a place that – no matter how big we get, (and) we’re getting big – we still have that small-town feel because we care about one another.

“When someone’s in need, we reach out. When we have a concern, you call, and I love that.”

Pastor Ryan Abernathy of West Metro Community Church gave the opening prayer and Pastor Brian Mills of Trinity Baptist Church gave the closing prayer at the 2023 Yukon Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.

Pastor Ryan Abernathy of West Metro Community Church offers the opening prayer. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)
Pastor Brian Mills of Trinity Baptist Church-Yukon leads the closing prayer. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)