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Chartered Director

What Climbing Real Mountains Can Teach us About Business

13 Nov 2017

Three people hike uphill away from the camera for Mountain Leadership Training

Many of us have hobbies that offer great insights for the business best practice.  Chartered Director Paul Bennett recently undertook Mountain Leader Training and Assessment at the Glenmore Lodge in Scotland. So what did he discover, and how have the lessons he learned on such an arduous terrain helped him in business?

“My heart was pounding, legs aching and mind racing as I led the group up a spur onto the cliff edge in cloud cover. The wind was buffeting and pushing me backwards.

“I grasped the map firmly and carefully counted my paces to estimate when I would arrive at my destination along the cliff edge to the peak of Angels Ridge. Finally, through the cloud, I saw the rock pile marking the summit. I have arrived I thought after 15 years, I have finally achieved my goal.”

Two years ago I decided to undertake mountain leader training at Glenmore Lodge in Scotland. Glenmore Lodge is Scotland’s national mountaineering centre and trains a variety of outdoors skills in the Cairngorms national park area. This area is a sub-arctic plateau where alpine artic wildlife and flora and fauna exist. It is the coldest and windiest part of the UK with record wind speed of 176 miles per hour and temperatures of -27.6°C.

I undertook the training following my completion of the Chartered Director qualification – a kind of reward – or punishment…I am not quite sure which, on reflection!

As a boy I had always dreamed of being a mountaineer and as a young man, I made numerous trips into the mountains with friends. However, it was a precarious and hazardous trip in the Cairngorms 15 years ago during a wild winter snow storm that I pledged to become a mountain leader. And it has taken me 15 years to honour my pledge.

Becoming a qualified mountain leader requires a week’s intensive training, 40 quality mountain days logged, a two-day first aid course and a five-day continual assessment.  

It covers a range of topics, some of which obvious and others not so obvious. The obvious skills include planning, nutrition, clothing and equipment, weather prediction, navigation (in day and night time conditions), group management, steep ground, wild camping, risk assessment and management, river crossings, rope work, first aid and emergency procedures.

The less obvious training included a detailed understanding of the history, geology, eco-systems, peoples, flora, fauna and wildlife of the UK mountains. The reasons for learning about these issues were two-fold: firstly, to appreciate the mountains as special areas and secondly, to continually educate our group about the places where we are walking.

I am pleased to say that, after the gruelling assessment including all sorts of emergency scenarios, navigational exercises in the cloud and in the dark, and leading a three-day expedition, I passed.

So what are the parallels and crossovers for business? 

Well, again, there are some obvious and some less obvious similarities. The more obvious ones are:

  • Resilience and leadership – leading a group up a mountain requires strength both physical and mental (especially when conditions deteriorate quickly) you are required to be calm, controlled and calculated even when gusts of 100 mph hit you (even a 50 mph gust can take you off your feet).   It can be hard to think straight when you’re tired.  Conversely, when conditions deteriorate, people can panic and act rashly.  It is not dissimilar to business where the winds of change can hit you unexpectedly and hard.  And (just as mountain leaders are taught) preparation, practice and calm leadership are needed to navigate in a new direction, and ensure everyone is looked after
  • Risk management – I love risk management in the mountains, it is so real and dynamic. We often think of risks in business as static or slow-moving when in fact the risks are dynamic because things can change quickly.  We manage risks better in business by staying alert and acting quickly, spotting changes early and adapting fast.  This foresight helps us make better decisions, using information from our eyes and all our senses (including gut instinct).
  • Teamwork – the constant communication, care and environmental talks were a nice reminder of what it means to be with other people all working towards a common goal.  In this case, it was the practical business of getting to the top of a mountain even when conditions were fairly miserable.  It really did emphasize a very important part of leadership;  get it right and there were smiles and laughter.  Get it wrong, and the consequences can be quite serious – quite a sobering thought.

The less obvious ones are;

  • Go light & pack right – in the mountains, you want your pack to be lightweight, carrying minimal weight, but still have the necessary clothing and equipment to keep you alive. I like the idea of being lightweight in business, not encumbering yourself with too many overheads and too much baggage when you can do the job far more efficiently with less.
  • Have fun – when our outlook is to have fun it certainly makes the day go more quickly and keeps people engaged.  What’s more, we can still achieve the goal we set ourselves.  So what’s the point of making heavy work out of it?   We may all be climbing a mountain every day, and at times be beset with fatigue, but perhaps we would enjoy it more if we lightened up a bit, enjoyed the experience and smelt the flowers along the way!

Learn more about the IoD's exclusive Chartered Director qualification, with its range of flexible study routes that blend online and face-to-face learning, tailored to your level of experience, prior qualifications, career aspirations and learning style

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