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Leadership Lessons From the World’s Highest Peaks

Adventurer and Leadership Advisor, Mandy Gill shares the strong resemblance between the requirements for success competing in some of the world’s most difficult environments, and climbing the corporate ladder. Yet when it comes to building workplace resilience, rarely are leaders and their teams ever taught to prepare for extreme situations. In this exploration, Mandy sheds light on the often-overlooked facet of cultivating workplace resilience, urging leaders and their teams to equip themselves for the unexpected twists of extreme situations.

Leadership Lessons from the World's Highest Peaks

The walls of our tent felt like blocks of ice as the minus 30-degree winds whipped the edge against my body for what felt like the hundredth time. Rolling away from the edge wasn’t an option for the Himalayan giant, Ama Dablam, as our tent was propped at the top of an icy uneven boulder field. My best attempt to sleep that night resulted in my husband waking me up a handful of times to say my breathing was at an abnormal pace. When I looked down at my watch to see my resting heart rate at 118 bpm, he wasn’t wrong. Just days before we had submitted Lobuche Peak in Nepal (20,075 feet/6,119 meters) to prepare for acclimatization on Ama Dablam — it was no small feat. And weeks before that I’d raced in a 100-kilometer trail ultra-marathon through the mountains in Whistler, Canada. Now as I lay in the tent with my body pressed up against a relentless ice-cold rock edge, I reminded myself of the lessons in resilience both sport and the fast-paced corporate world have taught me during the toughest of times.

1. Accelerate Clarity and Focus, and Eliminate Paralyzing Distractions

Anytime we set out to achieve a big goal (both personally and professionally), we know intellectually there will be difficulties. To mitigate those difficulties, it’s imperative to have crystal clear clarity of the bigger picture you’re working towards. For example, the summit push to Lobuche Peak began at midnight from basecamp, when climbing in the pitch dark is the safest option to travel along snow because it’s at its coldest. As we approached one of the steepest sections hours into our ascent (with views of Everest to our right), I found myself having to count to five to ten breaths for every step. As humbling as this may sound, it was also extremely frustrating and distracting. How was it that I needed to pause this long just for a single step? Voices in my head started to question if I could do this. Was I strong enough? Was I prepared enough? All of a sudden I caught myself diverting away from what was my biggest focus — to get to the summit, with patience, and respecting the time it took to do so — and there was no way I was going to let myself be my own worst distraction. I repeated to myself “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. A saying that applies to many moments in life — the start, middle, and even sometimes right up until the last moments before a big personal or team objective is achieved. Just because the world around us is becoming increasingly busy and distracting, doesn’t mean that we can’t filter through the noise, build our best workplace and home environments yet, and ultimately reach new heights beyond what we ever thought possible.

2. Recovering From Setbacks — “The 17-Mile Dip”

We can all recall a time when we struggled and failed to achieve our goal, perhaps giving it up entirely. After many ultramarathons, I began to call this moment “the 17-mile dip,” allowing it to serve as a metaphor for so many of us who struggle when our goal feels the most unattainable. How do you persevere through this especially challenging time when everything in you is tested to the limit? Be open to change, have a team that holds you accountable, and know it’s essential to maintain a positive outlook to help you overcome a lack of motivation and willpower in order to propel you through the 17-mile dip. When things are shifting and changing quickly around you, now is the time to look for lessons in the experience. Whether it be a new level of collaboration, communication, or team effectiveness, failure is only a detour to recalibrate your journey to get you where you need to go, wherever that may be.

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