In many ways being a business leader is like being a rock climber, specifically a lead climber. In rock climbing, the lead climber is responsible for protecting the climb as he ascends. Every 10 feet or so (if the rock allows) a piece of protection is placed into the rock (a cam, nut, or hex – usually into a crack) and in some cases the protection is pre-placed, then the climber clips his rope into the protection with a carabiner.
As he ascends the rock the climber gets higher and higher, and there are times when the last piece of gear is 10-15 feet below . This means that if the climber were to fall they would fall a minimum of 20-30 feet before the rope caught the fall. Needless to say, it takes a cool head to be a lead climber. It takes calculating moves and assessing risks.
I was once climbing the First Flatiron in Boulder, Colorado. I ended up finding myself about 20 feet above my last piece of gear, and on top of that the gear was considered “sketch”, meaning that If I took a fall on it, the piece likely would not have caught the fall. We were already on the second pitch of the climb, which meant we were about 200 feet off the ground. I had two choices, I could down climb back to my piece of gear, on easier terrain, or I could keep climbing and hope I found another crack to place gear.
The rock in front of me looked smooth with no places to protect with gear, it also appeared to get more difficult. So, assessing the risk I decided to climb back down to my last piece of gear. After doing this I realized we had gotten off the main route. I had ended up on more difficult terrain, but managed to keep a cool head and make good decisions. Once my climbing partner and I got back on the main route, we were cruising, and the rest of the day went fairly well.
“Business is stressful. A good leader remains composed, stays in the moment, focuses on one good move, then the next. No matter how radical the fall you face, keep your cool” – Gary Erickson (Cif Bar)
The quote by Gary reminded me about how important it is to keep your cool in business. At times it can seem like the odds are stacked against you; a vendor hasn’t delivered on time, and at the same time you are short staffed and can’t keep up with demand. All you can do in situations like that is make one move at a time, all while keeping a cool head, because the moment you panic, that is when you fall.
I’ve been tempted many times (and failed many times) to lose my cool during turbulent circumstances. But the truth is nothing you can do will solve the problem immediately, so there is no use in stressing over the situation. As Gary said, “no matter how radical the fall you face, keep your cool.” Failure to do so will surely result in a fall.
Your climbing partner (your team members) depends on you to continue on and finish the climb. You will also build trust and earn their confidence when you remain calm during difficult times. Somebody has to keep a cool head, and that should always be the leader (or leaders) or an organization.