Earlier this year I climbed Mt. Adams with several friends. During the climb, I couldn’t help but think of how the experience related to leadership and to business.
It’s Always More Daunting At The Bottom
Looking up at the top of Mt Adams from about two miles into the journey. Plenty of mountain left to climb.
At the base of the mountain, the climb ahead appears overwhelming. The mountain looks massive. It’s difficult to comprehend how someone my size could make it all of the way to the top.
Mountains are like the large and challenging projects that we face at work or at home. It takes courage and determination to take the first step, not to mention the thousands that will follow. It takes mental fortitude to know that you can tackle the huge task.
Without these things, you’ll give up before you even begin.
Preparation Is Crucial
My last minute gear.
Take my advice: Don’t wait until the night before climbing a mountain to go out and buy the supplies that you’ll need for the journey.
Unfortunately, that’s what I did. My preparation was poor. I prepared a lot physically but waited until literally the last night before the climb to get the tools I needed.
I stepped into my local sporting goods store at 7:30 PM and gave them the long list of supplies that I was looking for: a hiking pack, sleeping bag, boots, poles, and about 20 other things. The sweet sales attendant looked at me and said, “You know we close in 30 minutes, right?” I had underestimated how long it would take to get everything.
In my scramble to buy the things that I needed, I was unable to buy quality crampons that would get me through the solid ice above 10,000 ft. Spoiler Alert: This ultimately kept me from reaching the summit.
Business works the same way. You must prepare yourself and your team before engaging in a large and difficult project.
Think of all of the tools that your team will need and gather them. Ask experienced people what tools you will need that you may not have thought of; especially if you’ve never taken on a project like this before. Show your team how to use the tools and equip them.
If you don’t, you may never reach your target. You may find yourself standing very close to the summit, frustrated that you made it that far but still shy of your goal. Don’t let poor preparation keep you down.
(I will be back, Mt Adams, and next time I’m bringing crampons)
Take A Guide With You
Sam: Our wise and bearded guide.
Fortunately, for the team and I, our buddy Sam had climbed the mountain before. From his prior experience, he was able to tell us which gear we needed, what time of day we would start our climb, which path we would take, and dozens of other important and helpful pieces of information.
Without Sam’s direction, we may have found ourselves on the wrong side of the mountain unnecessarily trying to scale a rock wall. His direction kept us on the path which had the greatest chance for success. Not only did Sam bring a lot of gear, he brought vision and coaching. He brought leadership.
This caused me to think about all of the times in my life where I would have benefited from having a guide. There are too many times to count. Make your life easier and increase the odds in your favor – get a guide on your side. It has a nice ring to it… has anyone copyrighted “Get a Guide on Your Side” yet?…
Leadership Should Be Shared
Sam telling Dallin a dad joke.
Being who I am, I like to lead. I like being in the front and blazing the trail. I went into this experience feeling the same way.
However, I learned a mile or two into the adventure that Sam needed to be in the front. At times I started taking us off the right path. I hadn’t climbed this mountain before and had missed some of the trail markers.
Sam jumped in and took the lead. Not being in the front stung my ego a bit. I wanted to be in the front.
Ultimately, I had to place the success of the team above my ego. I had to recognize that there were more experienced and skilled members on my team than I. It wasn’t an easy thing to admit but I’m glad that I did.
Business works the same way. Find the “Sam” on your team. Find the ones that would be better than you to lead your team through certain parts of the journey. Utilize their skills and experience.
Sharing the leadership reigns doesn’t make you a weak leader. This makes your team stronger. A stronger team should be the goal of any strong leader.
Leadership works best when it is shared.
Make & Celebrate Milestones
An example of the path markers on Mt Adams
It would be easy to get lost on the mountain. At times, the trail is not well defined. Long ago, the glaciers gradually destroyed the big rocks into a fine gravel that covers the trail.
To keep people on the right path, some kind climbers built trail markers along the way. They took wood poles and piled up rocks around the posts.
These markers were spaced out along the trail in some of the most undefined areas. At many of these markers we would stop, regroup, eat some grape flavored Mike and Ike’s (which are incredibly delicious), and then began to focus on the next one.
Markers are important not only on mountains but also in business and life.
Without creating and focusing on milestones it would be easy to slow down, feel overwhelmed, get lost, waste time, or miss the target all together.
The best leaders break large projects up into chunks. They focus on executing the next step while keeping an eye on the horizon. They celebrate the wins along the way (did I mention how delicious grape Mike and Ike’s are?). They rally their teams and cast the vision for the next portion of the journey.
Strength in Numbers
Dallin, myself, Sam, and Jeff getting ready to climb after a night on the mountain.
Half way up the mountain one of the people on our team wanted to turn around. They’d had enough. Their body was telling them that they were too exhausted. The mountain was too big. They were on the verge of giving up and going home.
The rest of us on the team were not ok with that. We knew that he was capable of doing more.
We asked him to rethink his idea about quitting. He’d already made it this far. “Just give it a moment and see how you feel.”
After taking a moment to digest his thoughts, he reconsidered and carried on with us up the mountain.
This sort of thing happens all of the time in life. I’ve quit things. Others quit things. We set goals and we give up on them only to regret that decision later on. When things get hard it’s best to have a team for support. It can be the difference maker from not hitting your goal to hitting your goal.
Find and be an active part of a great team. Be focused on who you allow to join the group. Do they add to your overall strength or take from it?
“oh, is there an amazing sunset behind us?…”
They say that the best views come from the hardest climbs. I agree with them.
Standing at 10,000 ft and looking down on the neighboring Mt Hood and the rest of the world below was incredible. Scanning the path all of the way down to where we started the adventure was fun and rewarding.
I feel this same sense of accomplishment every time my team and I hit our business goals. You get some sense of it from small goals but the hard goals bring elevated levels of accomplishment.
You can look back on what you just did and hold your head up high knowing that not too many people would do, let alone be willing to do, what your team just did.
This climb was something that I will remember for the rest of my life.
I plan on climbing there again with this same crew this next May. I can’t wait to summit.