Monday, July 4, 2011

Taming the Leadership peak

"Mountain climbing is a risky activity and not to be taken lightly no matter how easy or benign your chosen peak might seem. Remember: Looks can be deceiving. The mountains are filled with danger and drama. Lightning can stab out of a clear sky. Thunderstorms quickly form and drench you with rain and sleet. Rockfall and avalanches sweep down mountain faces. Difficulties can slow you, forcing you to bivouac in the open. You or your climbing partner can have an accident, causing all kinds of complications. If you’re a novice and inexperienced in the ways of the mountains, then it’s wise to go with more experienced companions or a guide. You can learn from them what it takes to be safe in the mountains so you can return another day for a new adventure." - Friedrich Nietzsche
The above description of mountaineering was written at a time when mountains still evoked in many people the feeling of the Sublime, an aesthetic experience that struck a heady mix of fear, wonder, excitement and terror in those that experienced or even just considered such scenes. These were the places of monsters, demons, or simply bandits that would rob you blind. And if they didn't get you, you'd be just as likely to slip off some precipice, tumbling down the scree to a blunt fate on some rocky outcrop below.

But this was also a time when such previously unvisited regions were being trekked, charted and even inhabited. People were developing the skills - psychological, physical and technical - to overcome their fears and the challenges that such dangerous terrain presented. And a new profession of mountain guides was born to accommodate those new to such adventures.

Whilst on Nietzsche's mountain things are beautifully, if brutally, simple - it is life or death, success or failure - modern corporate culture and organizational bureaucracy make for different rules of engagement to those of mountaineering.

Success or failure of a business or organization, especially that of individual internal projects, initiatives or changes, can be measured in a multitude of ways, but Nietzsche's description holds true for today's Leadership Challenge in the following three ways.

Firstly, Leaders should prepare to take risks. But being aware of just what those risks are is essential in foreseeing difficulties or problems that either need to be overcome or require the taking of a different path.

Secondly, Leaders need to consult their peers. Just as a mountain guide is useful even to an experienced climber when visiting new ranges, so our Leaders should also listen to the wealth of advice, thinking and experience that the Leadership community has to offer.

Finally, don't fear failure. Inherent in taking risks is the risk of failure, but it's critical that Leaders recognize failure early. It's better to scrap an idea as soon as it becomes clear that it will fail, rather than blindly soldier on in order not to lose face.

1 comment:

  1. Some of my happiest, most insightful moments have been had while bivouacing in the open. I would recommend it wholeheartedly to all would-be leaders. To extend the metaphor further, the ability to travel light and remain agile in whatever terrain you might find yourself is a core competence of the modern executive.