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Leadership Lessons – How A Mountain Climber Teaches Us To Be Great

This past weekend I was a co-leader at an event sponsored by SHRM-Atlanta, and NAAAHR-Atlanta called SHIFT (Start Having Intentionality in focusing your Talents). We brought together some great speakers and had a sold-out audience of Atlanta HR pros.

Our keynote speaker, Stacie Hagan – CHRO of Secureworks, delivered an inspiring message about how to embrace change and take risks in your career. Her presentation weaved a collection of compelling stories that showed in vivid form how taking risks in your career can pay off.

One story Stacie talked about drew a comparison from a Netflix movie, The Dawn Wall. The film is about how American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson accomplished the impossible – climbing a 3,000-foot rock face in Yosemite National Park, California.

Rock climbing - achieving the impossible – I was hooked.

I watched The Dawn Wall the evening after our SHIFT event and found that was much more than the “dare to be great” story for Tommy Caldwell. What I saw was an embodiment of leadership and a role model for all of us.

BHAG’s are Great – It Takes Courage to Fully Commit to Success

How many of us have had business meetings and have identified Big-Hairy-Audacious-Goals (BHAG)? We are asked to dream big and reach for the stars. We are told not to be constrained by the possible but to think about the impossible.

What happens to those BHAG’s? Sadly, they reside in PowerPoint decks that never see the light of day after the business meeting.

Tommy Caldwell was different. He made a goal that he was going to climb the 3,000 foot Dawn Wall. Period. Everyone said it could not be done, but he was obsessed. Tommy did not spend his time talking about his goal. He went after the target with a relentless pursuit that involved years of study, physical training, and trial and error.

Resilience and Grit Are Essential For Greatness

Tommy had some life setbacks that could have caused him to end his goal to climb the Dawn Wall. His wife/soul mate/climbing partner left him for another man. He also lost his left index finger in a table saw accident. Despite these setbacks, Tommy was able to persevere, channel his energy and concentration towards the impossible task ahead. How Tommy was able to scale the wall with a missing finger is a powerful testament to the human spirit.

It Takes Courage to Truly Sacrifice Your Glory for That of Your Team

We all say we are team players. What would you do if you if a teammate of yours were holding you back from achieving your life’s dream? Many of us would objectively leave the teammate behind and rationalize that the mission comes first.

Tommy did no such thing. How is this for being a servant leader? Tommy camped on the side of Yosemite for ten days waited for his climbing partner to get past Pitch 15 successfully. Let this sink in, Tommy put his dreams on hold and waited in a tent stapled 2,000 feet above ground in the freezing cold to wait for his friend to catch up to him. That is inspiring and defines what “we versus me” is.

Thanks, Stacie Hagan, not only for a great keynote but for the recommendation to watch The Dawn Wall. I never expected that I would get a master class of leadership lessons from watching two men climb a mountain.