“While you’re up there, why don’t you take a deep breath, look around and enjoy the view!” The climbing guide, who had pushed me several times outside of my comfort zone in the past hour, encouraged me to stop and enjoy the new perspective I had gained once I reached the top.

I was hanging in a climbing harness at the top of a 60 foot high rock near Vantage, Washington with in the distance snowcapped mountains, under me the Columbia River Gorge and above me, eagles in the blue sky.

The experience was breathtaking and exhilarating. I had just conquered my first rock wall by conquering my mind and my fear of heights (my legs are feeling like jello when I’m standing on a stepladder)! I stretched in many ways and felt accomplished… 

Reflecting back on my very first rock-climbing lesson, I realized how much my experience was a metaphor for the leadership experience and below I share my top 10 lessons.

10 Leadership lessons from climbing my first rock:

1.    Effective leaders work with an experienced coach or mentor who roots for them and holds them accountable for their growth.

It was crucial and and valuable to have an experienced climbing guide who challenged and encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone to learn a new skill.

2.    Establish trust with the people you work with.

I trusted my guide completely, because of the things they said to establish safety, communication guidelines and credibility of their guiding experience.

3.    Sometimes the smartest route to the top isn’t straight upward.

I had to regularly look for handholds and ledges to place my foot and sometimes the best move was to go sideways.

4.    Master the art of making difficult decisions on the go.

While I was hanging in my harness on the rock wall, I had to decide in a split second to let go or hold on, to move my hand or my foot, to trust my gut and my guide.

5.    Successful leaders face their fear and move through it, constantly expanding their comfort zone to get ahead.

I climbed up a few meters, and then back down. I went up twice the distance, and back down again. By doing that, I expanded my comfort zone each time I climbed further up and eventually made it to the top.

6.    Sometimes letting go is the only way to move into a new direction.

At times it was challenging to let go of a position on the wall and when I did, I gained new perspectives, created new opportunities and climbed higher up.

7.    It isn’t as much about getting to the top as it is about the journey.

The learning experience and building the mental strength to do something scary. “Climbing is not about conquering the rock, but conquering yourself”

8.    Clear communication without room for misinterpretations is crucial for a leader’s success in relationships and performance.

It was crucial for my guide's and my safety, that we established clear communication without doubt about what our communication meant. For example: we both established the same meaning for the command: “Belay is on” (which meant that each of us was ready to start the climbing).

9.    Agility is key in any leadership position.

If I hadn’t been physically and mentally flexible and alert, I would not have made it to the top of that rock without falling down. Just saying.

10.   Focused attention gets the work done! 

Without the focus and attention of my guide and I, we would not have accomplished together what we did that morning.

Bonus Lesson:

            Improvement comes with practice. Rock climbing was a completely new skill for me the moment I hoisted myself in the harness. After a few hours of practice I knew I had made improvements, from first being apprehensive to climb higher than 4 feet to comfortably climbing almost 60 feet at the end of the session and wanting to do more! Any improvement comes after we've practiced new skills. The key is just to do it!

(c) 2019 Berry Kruijning, Crowning Communications LLC, Leadership Development Coaching

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Leadership for Female Lawyers: Lawyerandleader.com