Life can be a challenge in different parts of our lives. The question is how we choose to handle it on our way towards our goals.When you climb a mountain, you have a goal to make it to the top. “No matter how much we try to avoid the difficulties in our lives, no matter how much effort we exert to protect our children from pain, every human faces mountains of his own”.  -H.V.Stiegel

If we use failure as a stepping-stone for success and hang on to our vision, we are then aware of when it’s time to come down from the mountain.

From her book; “The Mountain Within”, Herta Von Stiegel ( with Gina Smith) is telling us her amazing story when she led a group of 28 multinational climbers including seven disabled people to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for charity.

Reinforcing the leadership lessons gleaned from episodes of the climb and her own professional experience together with conversations with some of the world’s most notable leaders, she makes us aware of todays challenges in organizations and life.

Up’s and down’s are both common, however, there is no doubt that we prefer the up’s instead of the down’s.

Leadership lesson No. 1: Resilience.

In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.  Albert Bandura.

Stiegel; “When the situation looks dark – when success seems remote – there is no better time to choose an attitude of persistence, an attitude of resilience. This, I have seen, is the key to keeping going when despair threatens to hold you back from the success that is almost within your grasp”.

Through her four-decade study of impoverished Hawaiian children, Emmy Werner have identified these traits of resilient people:

An attitude of perseverance: The Key-stone is to keep going and use positive self-talk to keep motivated for the worst outcomes. Self-reinvention: After a trauma, resilient people are capable for reinventing themselves in new roles. Their plasticity is incredible. Courage: Here, resilient survivors, in business or on the mountain use their failures as life lessons which they can build upon. Reliance on a mentor: You can get support through troubled times by speaking with someone who’s been there before. Restorable self-esteem: Here the people who bounce back best are those who decide that circumstances have failed them, not the other way around.

Nancy Palmer is one of the leading U.S. researchers on resilience, and says; “it takes personal characteristics such as social skills and environmental factors to create the resilience phenomenon” and “resilience does not just come from the person. Additionally, it draws on biological and psychological characteristics of the person”.

Leadership lesson No. 2: Career vs. Calling. 

Climbing to the top demands strength, whether it is to the top of Mount Everest or to the top of your career.  Abdul Kalam

What is your calling in life ? How often do we listen to our teacher deep inside us ?

Stiegel: “It is an inspiration that grabs hold of you and leads you where you are meant to go. A calling is not a goal that we create and control. Instead, it is  a teacher that we listen to and follow if we have the courage and desire to reach our highest aspirations”. Listen to your own calling, people may tell you that your vision is wrong, but if you have a vision in your heart, you will know it. A calling may show up at any point in life and will bring an ultimate value to your life. “Whether it’s something that you felt from an early age or something that came later, though, following your calling brings meaning to your life”.

Sung-Joo Kim, one of the top 50 women in the world to watch, wanted to prove that she as a woman could climb the ladder and rise to the top, even in a patriarchal country like Korea. As one of the most respected businesspeople, male or female in Asia she wanted to prove that it was possible to start a small company or a medium size company and then grow it to a gigantic, global proportions. She is the founder of a retail group, the Sung-Joo Group, which runs dozens of franchise retail stores in South Korea. She had a true vision.

Leadership lesson No. 3: Project Management.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  Lao Tzu

You have a deadline on a project and still have a long way to go. You are overwhelmed.

What is the secret to successful project management ? Stiegel;”You have to break big projects into smaller steps. The brain, scientists have discovered, handles complex tasks and memories by a technique they call ‘chunking’. Chunking is a technique you can use when you have a big project coming up, you break it down into smaller achievable parts.

Leadership lesson No. 4: The attraction of preparation.

Preparation is an important tool to success. In every step we take in life and at work is depending on our planning and preparations.

Stiegel;”Make sure you surround yourself with people who complement your weaknesses and then have the confidence to delegate to others in areas where you are weakest”. The author makes us aware of the importance of knowledge sharing preferred for every unique situation and project. The human capital is a treasure and is longing to be used in different occasions. We need to be aware of the weaknesses of our own, it only shows that you are honest about your strengths and weaknesses.

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.   Colin Powell

Leadership lesson No. 5: Failure.

Failure is scary for most of us and we wish it never happened. On the other hand, failure can be a good thing if you are willing to learn from it.

A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.  B.F.Skinner

Stiegel;”The lesson is clear: When you fail, make sure that you don’t dwell on it. Fail fast, learn everything you can, and move on”. Here, the author makes us aware that it’s tempting to suffer and get to involved in the mire of failure. “Give failure its proper role in your mind; a place to dwell briefly, learn and reflect, and move on from quickly”.

Marsha Serlin; is a CEO of the largest industrial recycling company in the United States and says that rebounding from failures either large or small is essential to success. “So many times, great ideas come from simple things, that you notice. And the next time, I’ll say, let’s try that another way. What could we do differently from what we’re doing now that could create more of a success”. To create an environment in which failure is safe is much up to leaders.

Leadership lesson No. 6: Your Legacy.

By investing in your legacy you are showing for yourself and your colleagues what kind of leader you are.

Stiegel;”Investing in your legacy means that you invest yourself-your time and your skills-into a charitable organization or cause that would benefit most from your passion”.

Being a good leader means showing humanity and caring. It may also include giving back to the community.

Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live as well as think.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leadership lesson No. 7: Team selection.

Building good teams are a challenge, but important to succeed. The question is how to select a good team.

Stiegel;”A team is as good as its leader or better. I’d turn around that old saw that a leader is only as good as his team”.

The secret to success is good leadership, and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members or workers better.  Tony Dungy

As a leader it is of importance to take good care of your team by listening to problems and concerns. There are three basic emotions necessary for a team to perform; inclusion,control and openness.

A diversified team with complementary skill sets and a winning attitude is a good selection. Stiegel;”When you are choosing a team, aim for individuals who are skilled yet teachable, individuals who can do the work and also play well with others”. However , the most important is looking for people with strong values and a positive attitude. A key-stone in leading a team is to motivate and give rewards. Transparency of decision-making is a must as well as respect for all in the group.

Leadership lesson No. 8: Quality.

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.  Ray Kroc

‘Never change a winning team’. If the team is doing good, why change it ?  Still, you need to be open-minded and hungry for new challenges and changes to the better. Stiegel;”Slipping toward mediocrity-accepting ‘good’ when the best is within reach-is exactly what I mean by compromising on quality”. As a top-tennis player you need to be hungry enough and change your game all the time if you want to be at your best.

Leadership lesson No. 9: The unexpected.

Uncertainties is always a challenge, either we like it or not. The challenge with uncertainties is to find a key in how to handle it. Stiegel;”The future is all about surprises. Expecting them is half the battle. Being ready for the unexpected is the other half. But how can you be ready for something that you don’t or can’t see coming ?” The author makes us aware of the importance of releasing yesterdays or even an hour ago’s attachment.

From his book ‘Black Swans’, Nassim Taleb say;”Wild uncertainties, as he calls them, face world markets and individual leaders alike. So how do you deal with them ? You’ve got to be ready for the eventuality that something totally new will pop up at some point, helping (or hindering) your own personal blueprint for what to expect next”. Here Taleb makes us aware that to be ready for the wild uncertainties it may be difficult to handle if you have become too far removed from your organization, from your project or from the key decision makers who is involved in your deal.

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.  Hermann Hesse

Leadership lesson No. 10: Decision.

In the private zone as well in the organizations we have to take decisions, some of them may be more difficult than others. Leadership among other tasks is to know when to close a deal or walk away. When Stiegel refers to the genius behind the peanuts cartoon series, Charles Schultz, he say;” No problem is so formidable that you can’t walk away from it”. “However don’t walk away from a deal, a company or a project because of personality clashes”. Schultz, makes us aware of a common problem. Often people give up because  of internal conflicts. That is not an appropriate reason, unless it is a matter of principle. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, find common ground, and understand his concerns.

If you decide to walk away, here are the following circumstances to do so:

After you have tried everything in your power to change the situation.

When it is a matter of principle.

After you have stopped to learn from and properly reflected on the situation.

When you have chosen the timing so as to give yourself the best possible step up.

When the possible downside consequences do not justify continuing.

When you have given consideration to what comes next and how a subsequent battle could be won.

When you are leaving from a position of strength.

This checklist can make your departure easier.

The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.   Sun Tzu

Leadership lesson No. 11: Criticism.

How we choose to respond to criticism is leading us into  the right or wrong direction. Some criticism seems unfair and may hurt your feelings. You may also learn from it.

Researchers Jay Knippen and Thad Green is writing for a psychological journal on workplace learning and say that handling criticism is a five-step process: Prepare yourself because it is likely that criticism will eventually land on you/ Accept the criticism when you hear it without being defensive or responding in a personally hurt or angry way/ Try to understand the criticism-ask for questions and really get a handle on what the criticism entails/ Reach agreement with the critic, especially if you report to this person on ways in which you can change what’s being criticized/ Finally, give positive comments back to the critic, which will reinforce the idea that you are the kind of leader who can handle criticism and use it as a catalyst for change.

Sometimes your integrity is questioned and your intentions and motives are misunderstood by people who should know better, this is the most painful criticism. Stiegel;”This is a reality of business, you need to learn how to deal with both your enemies and your frenemies”.

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.   Frank A. Clark

Leadership lesson No. 12: The Ego

Egocentric employees, managers and leaders have problems in handling criticism, they may also dwell on failures or try to cover it up. They are more focused on their own needs than about the team. Stiegel;”The mission is always more important than ego. Most of the time, you need to set your ego aside and shelve it. If your ego is healthy and you have a strong sense of identity, you will have the discipline to keep your ego under control”. If you care enough about your team, you show it by being a good example and you place the mission before your ego and the bonus you get is a short-cut towards reaching your goals.

“Everyone-especially you-needs to be able to know that success primarily relies on everyone working on the same mission-rowing the same boat in the same direction, so to speak. This is the authentic path toward leadership”.

Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called Ego ?     Friedrich Nietzsche

Leadership lesson No. 13: Rhythm

Finding a good rhythm and balance makes it easier to reach your goals. The author makes us aware of  cultivating a rhythm which enables you to reach your objectives while enjoying the journey. This may lead to people wanting to follow you. “The best leaders learn how to pace themselves-not just in the office or for their projects but also in whatever they do, both personally and professionally”.

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.   John C. Maxwell

Leadership lesson No. 14: Overcoming obstacles

Obstacles and encumbrances could be; any event, person, habit or behavior that impedes your steady progress. Most of us experience to be disturbed which may lead to stress and frustration.

Stiegel;”Apathy and a lack of passion are serious encumbrances that need to be jettisoned and replaced by a positive attitude and commitment to excellence. You will not be able to motivate your team and the people you need to win over if you are to meet your objectives if you are not passionate about what you do”.

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.   Henry Ford

Leadership lesson No. 15: Leading a winning team

Leading people requires wisdom and knowledge. Sun Tzu; The wise leader is able to see the whole of a situation and read the way things are moving.

Carnegie say;”Basic knowledge and practice of etiquette is a valuable advantage, because in a lot of situations, a second chance may not be practical or even possible”.

Leaders who cares about their team act thoughtfully to the people around them, regardless of the situation. Carnegie; Consider other people’s feelings and stick to your  convictions as diplomatically as possible. Address conflict as situation-related, rather than person-related. Ref; my blog, What we can learn from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” in todays organizations.

Stiegel has five suggestions to keep your team in fighting shape; Value the contribution of each ten member/ Second, good communication is a key. Every team member need to know their values and necessity for their team/ Feedback on what is going right or wrong along the path is needed to keep the team members focused/ Third, let your team members have an opening and room to replenish their intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical reservoirs. Create an environment where your team members are taken care of and not feel that they need to suppress who they are/ Fourth, it is important to encourage shared leadership. “To avoid apathy, collective decision-making processes are an important part of keeping a strong team excellent”. Five, Another key.element is to keep ‘sunshine moments’, here you celebrate wins – small or big ones for the whole team, even if just one person is responsible.

Leadership lesson No. 16: Don’t stay at the top too long

You need to be aware as a leader when your time has come to step down. Stiegel;”The world is full of people who stay too long in positions of power; at best, they tarnish their legacy, and at worst, they can cause untold damage to themselves, their organizations, or their countries”.

Here Stiegel in conversation with Mohammed “Mo” Ibrahim, known as the founder of Celtel, one of Africa’s largest mobile phone operators, he say; The personal mountain that many an accomplished leader should climb, he added, is ‘vanity’. Look around, and you’ll easily see that the people whom we really admire, who have achieved, who have done things, are really humble people who overcame vanity and egos. The danger of being at the top too long, he said, lies in being surrounded by yes-people, by not listening for the truth and listening only to the praise and to the people who are ‘glorifying you’.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.   John Quincy Adams

Written by

Inger Lise E. Greger, MSc. Change Management 


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