Ernest Hemmingway said “What is true at first light is a lie by noon”. There is no map, no specific path, and no series of steps that will deliver your highest endeavors. Success is never a guarantee but rather a culmination of hard work, determination, and a willingness to climb mountains that others have not.

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Unclimbed mountains are the ultimate challenge fraught with uncertainty and risk while demanding courage and a focused, clear mind. Yet, rewards of a first ascent of a mountain are the most satisfying and incredible experiences we can have in the mountains.

A slight shift in perspective yielded a first ascent.

Last fall I parked my car at the side of the road in the North Cascades National Park, :30 minutes from my home. I had driven past this same mountain hundreds of times and for the first time that morning noticed a line to the top I hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was the shift in the autumn light or my own new perspective, but a clear and visible line appeared to me that morning. My partner and I changed our plans, packed our gear, and started into the woods making our way to the peak. Upon reaching the rock, we followed our intuition and ascended previously unclimbed cracks and corners to the summit. It was a crisp and glorious fall day and we were rewarded with an amazing blue sky view of the entire mountain range. A slight shift in perspective yielded a first ascent.

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Embracing challenge with innovation and determination are prime examples of climbing first ascents. The mountains represent our professional obstacles and the climbing of them is our ability to navigate and overcome these obstacles. Climbing uncharted territory may be the most difficult but rewarding adventure one can embark on. With patience, planning and determination climbing the unclimbed can lead to your success and the attainment of your highest professional goals…

“Expect the best, prepare for the worst, capitalize on what comes” – Zig Zigler 

In essence, Zig Zigler is telling us that when embarking on an adventure, we should plan for and expect the best while being flexible and preparing for the worst. What we are left with then is a plan that is not rigid, but allows for changes as we come across them. A plan that doesn’t allow for any deviation is an ineffective plan, because everything changes in the field. Our original plan is not likely the best plan, and it will more as we encounter new information in the field.

A plan that is not rigid, but allows for change.

It is important to recognize that a plan is not dogma; it is not set in stone. You must be flexible and nimble, embracing uncertain outcomes. Willingness to change direction and reassess based on new information is paramount to making the climb. Hold both the image of the mountain from a distance, your original plan before you started the expedition, and see the mountain as you climb it, up close and personal. Hold both images simultaneously and make appropriate decisions as new challenges arise. Your plan will change as you progress, and it should.

Don’t think that because the plan is flexible, it is unnecessary. Your plan is your map, it keeps you focused towards what you are trying to achieve. It is a fluid concept, and changes with new information, but it is your compass through the mountains.

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Believe

Not only is having a plan necessary, but believing in your plan, and yourself is also essential to your climb. If you lack the confidence to move forward, you will question yourself at every bump and turn on the path. Have the confidence in your abilities to navigate and make the appropriate decisions when the time comes.

Belief is the single most important factor in engaging with uncertainty. Not belief that you know the way, but belief that you are willing and prepared to find the way. This ability to see the forest through the trees propels you through those questioning and scary moments.

All the planning in the world, questioning and what ifs cannot substitute for learning in the moment, in the field. The key to success lies in being flexible and nimble to shift direction and strategy based on new information – always towards the original goal, the summit.

Analysis Paralysis

Analysis paralysis occurs when one overanalyzes to the extent that it delays the initiation of or progression of a project. The biggest danger in the preparation process is the tendency to postpone, delay, and never start the expedition until every possibility and question is answered. Every possible scenario will never be mapped out nor will every question be answered. No matter how prepared you are, how skilled you are, how experienced, you can’t climb the mountain if you never get to it and begin climbing. Don’t fall a victim to analysis paralysis. Identify your goal, develop a flexible plan and get started. You can’t win if you don’t try.

Embarking on Your Journey

Beginning your first ascent can be scary, but with a goal in mind and belief in yourself it is absolutely attainable. Develop a plan, without spending so much time that you delay the initiation of your adventure. Be nimble, allowing for the field to mold your plan. Learn from your experiences and never lose your determination. Believe in yourself and persist. You will make it to the top of your mountain and will continue onto the next and the next. Success comes to those who believe, work hard, and persist despite the challenges they encounter.

Consider your highest endeavor, your unclimbed mountain. What do you need to do to properly prepare and begin your first ascent into the unknown? Share your thoughts below, forward this onto a friend or colleague, or just get off the blank page and begin drawing your own map.

There is a joke, with a large dose of truth to it, in mountain guiding. If you want to be a great mountain guide you’ll need to fluidly and expertly transition between being an expert technical climber, a personal coach, a weatherman, a nurse, a chef, a logistics expert, an intrepid international liason, a project manager, and a decisive CEO – all within a single day. The tasks, skills, and roles guiding and adventuring ask of us as individuals can be daunting, but it can also be energizing. The terrain is never the same, the dynamics always shifting.

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Dr. Chris Maxwell, a Senior Fellow at the Wharton School of Business, recently highlighted the challenges of leadership in the mountains and the direct correlation to leading an organization. His work supports our first hand field experience: Business leaders who lead like a guide will provide the kind of leadership that supports the vision of the organization and uplifts the people who work to make that vision a reality.

Maxwell specifically highlights six leadership strengths of mountain guides:

  • Guides demonstrate social intelligence
  • Guides adapt leadership style to match changing conditions
  • Guides empower others to reach for their own summits
  • Guides facilitate the development of trust
  • Guides manage risk in an environment of uncertainty
  • Guides see the big picture

When working with organizations and delivering keynotes, I strive to not only highlight these lessons but also offer tangible and immediate ways to apply these lessons. Our workshops, either in the mountains or in the conference room, offer tools to employ these leadership skills and strengthen teams.

Business leaders who lead like a guide will provide the kind of leadership that supports the vision of the organization and uplifts the people who work to make that vision a reality.

The challenge we all face, whether in the mountains facing a pending storm in technical terrain or the pending launch of a new product or service and facing budget, timeline, and staffing difficulties, lay in applying the appropriate leadership style at the right time. It can be easy to fall back to our default style or, worse yet, react from a place of anxiety or stress and apply a leadership style that compounds the situtation.

Adventuring offers an unlimited number of micro leadership opportunities. Opportunities to practice, learn, and recieve immediate feedback. Consider your challenges as a leader, how do they line up with the leadership skills of a guide? Let us know below, add a comment or send us an email.

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The expectations are high: think quickly, but with discernment. Process gobs of information, but don’t become buried in the depth and breadth of possibility. Adapt and be agile, but develop expertise. Somewhere along the way the expectation of being human takes a secondary position. The possibility of Adventure in Everything seems, well, impossible.

“Slow down. Breathe. Take your time. We have all day…and after today we have six more days.” It was late in the afternoon, and I was coaching a guest through a technical section of our ascent.

A few weeks ago, I was leading seven climbers on an expedition to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. Standing at 19,341 feet, Mt. Kilimanjaro is a challenging endeavor that demands your full presence – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

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A Tanzanian porter, essential to the success and well-being of our expedition, walked by carrying a heavy load. With a beaming smile, the porter sincerely looked in the eyes of my client and said: “Pole Pole.” Pole Pole (pronounced Po-lay Po-lay) is Swahili for slowly, gently, or softly, and is shared daily as the wisdom for a successful ascent of the mountain. Pole Pole.

Our team summited Kilimanjaro under clear and calm skies. The ascent, while beautiful and challenging, went off without a hitch technically: we had a strong team and perfect conditions.

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At our last camp on our descent off the mountain, we gathered for a final celebration dinner before heading back to town, back to cell phones, back to email and internet, work and family demands. Pole Pole was the topic of discussion. The group was in alignment: we run our lives at a sprint, reacting and responding to a seemingly never-ending stream of demands and information. Pole Pole. We wanted to take Pole Pole home with us.

Pole Pole was a gift: a gift of respite, rejuvenation, a feeling of space that gave us physical and emotional peace. The gift of time and presence that we all felt was missing in our full-engagement, 24/7, all-hands-on-deck lives at home. Pole Pole created an opportunity for laughter, camaraderie, and appreciation.

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Pole Pole. It is the pause at dinner when you share your appreciations for the day. The moments you intentionally set aside your agenda and engage with a child fully, at their speed. Pausing to savor and really taste your coffee. Taking a full breath and appreciating the moment for what it is, not what it could be. Living and being present to those around you – to that moment.

Pole Pole. It’s not easy to integrate Pole Pole into our lives. But, the rewards are rich and wonderful. Give yourself, and those around you, the gift of Pole Pole. Practice it today, this hour, this evening. Shift the expectations toward being Human.

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