Nov
08
 

Mountain climbing can look an awful lot like leadership

Mountain climbing can look an awful lot like leadership
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
~Edmund Hillary

My daughter is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro next summer. That has me thinking about mountains, what it takes to climb (or conquer) them, and what it takes to prepare. I think about what she has literally in front of herself, and of how she’ll have to push herself, and I realize that while it is entirely different from our daily challenges in life and leadership and the figurative mountains we conquer, it is also very much the same.

In order to make it up that mountain she’ll have to believe that she can make it up the mountain and envision herself reaching the summit. At the same time, she will also have to know that it’s okay if she doesn’t. A sudden storm, altitude sickness – a multitude of reasons might cause her to abandon the climb, and yet she’ll need to still recognize that she has succeeded. In mountain climbing as in leadership, we need the vision to see, set, and achieve our goals – and the fortitude and self-confidence to accept setbacks or failure, and reassess our approach.

She’ll have to sleep on the ground, withstand bitter temperatures, carry her gear, and work in a team. All of these will require her to push herself farther – mentally, physically, and emotionally – than she probably ever has. Again, no different, in some ways, from the challenges we face and internal obstacles we overcome when we climb our figurative mountains. We often have to fight against our own doubts, perspectives, and resistance, as well as those of others, in order to achieve our goals.

And in the end, she will celebrate – whatever the outcome. Celebrate conquering her mountain and pushing herself beyond her self-imposed limits. Celebrate what she’s learned and how she’s grown. Just what effective leaders and managers do when their mountains are conquered, when their objectives are attained. They stop and acknowledge what they’ve conquered, on the outside, as well as within themselves.

What mountains have you conquered? How have you conquered yourself as well? Next time you’re faced with a challenge, dig deep to see what internal obstacle, perspective, or resistance may be in your way – and move past it.

To learn more about leadership and mountain climbing, read “The Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest” by Michael Useem available through Harvard Business Review.

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