Adventures are, by definition, out of the ordinary. They’re exciting. There’s an element of the unknown in the adventure, however big or small it is. The Odyssey would just be a long, boring story if Odysseus simply plotted out his course to Ithaca and trudged along until he got there. It’s an adventure because so many big things happen: the Trojan War, obnoxious men wooing his wife Penelope back home, and the highly exacting archery competition to win her back, for example.
But adventure isn’t only about big things happening. It’s about how we as individuals and groups meet expected and unforeseen challenges, and how we learn to tap into inner resources we may never have known we possessed in order to bring the adventure to completion. Note the “completion” of an adventure doesn’t necessarily mean triumph. Rocky Balboa ultimately lost to Apollo Creed in Rocky, but he definitely completed the mission he set out to, and experienced triumph nonetheless. While “winning” isn’t necessarily a part of an adventure, one element that is essential to the concept of adventure is that of “high endeavor.”
What Does High Endeavor Mean?
Some endeavors are necessary. The endeavor of doing the dishes is necessary so that your kitchen remains sanitary and usable, but doing the dishes isn’t exactly a “higher calling.” High endeavor is that which is intrinsically worthy of extra effort and devotion. It is an endeavor that inspires us to be the best possible version of ourselves. In adventure education, high endeavor helps individuals and teams align their actions with their values, whether they’re in the workplace or on the side of a mountain. Without high endeavor, an “adventure” is just doing something you don’t normally do, which you may or may not grow from.
Why Is It Necessary to Adventure?
Have a look at this video about the elements of adventure:
A true adventure is something that changes you. Just as the main character in an epic novel changes considerably by overcoming conflict and obstacles between the first page and the last, the real-life adventure makes you different after than you were before. But it makes you different because you dug deep and aspired, knowing you might not succeed, but knowing also that it was essential to the integrity of your character that you put forward your best effort. You saw the opportunity to enlarge your soul, and you took it. Whether you “won” or not at the end of the adventure, you’re a better person for it.
Consider Situations Where You Have Risen Above Expectations
What are some of your most memorable and proud moments? What did you do that showed you that you were more competent than you thought? This should be in relation to your own expectations, because what’s easy for some people is challenging for others. Whether you trained hard and ran a marathon, whether you learned enough Italian to not have to rely on English when you went to Tuscany, or whether you learned how to bake bread exactly the way your grandmother used to, if you have truly engaged in high endeavor, then almost by definition you have achieved success.
High endeavor isn’t the only element intrinsic to true adventure. Are you ready to challenge yourself and meet goals you may once have thought unattainable? If so, I encourage you to read Adventure in Everything: How the Five Elements of Adventure Create a Life of Authenticity, Purpose, and Inspiration. Adventure doesn’t just take place in a perilous situation or at the mercy of Mother Nature. When you learn to live your authentic life, your entire life becomes a setting for adventure.
My friend and colleague, Steve Luckenbach, just wrapped up his first experience rock climbing adventure last week. Together we climbed at Red Rocks in Las Vegas, Nevada. To say it was an empowering and enlightening experience that transformed his perspective on work and life is an understatement!
I’ll let Steve’s own words do the work describing his experience, check out Steve’s blog post reflecting on his first multi-pitch rock climb as well for more learning and insight on his journey as an executive leader and keynote speaker.
….While I have a rope tied to my harness, everything within you says falling is not an option, whether you’re 50 feet or 600 feet off the ground. I must say I found it helpful not to look down, but what quickly dawned on me as I looked for the next place to place my hand and foot was that contemplating failure was of absolutely no benefit…
Want to join me for a personal or group climbing experience? Send me an email at email@example.com or give a call at 520-360-1465 – we can set up a custom adventure for you anywhere in the world!
Check out some photos from Steve’s adventure last week below:
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson oversaw the purchase from France of the vast Louisiana Territory, and afterward proposed a lengthy exploration of the territory, choosing his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to oversee it. Along with co-leader William Clark, the Lewis and Clark expedition set out to see if there was an all-water route to the Pacific coast, and to learn about trading conditions in the territory.
From May 1804 to September 1806, the crew explored and mapped the newly purchased territory, establishing an American presence before European countries could try to claim it. Along the way they studied plants, animals, and geographic features of this huge expanse, learned to trade with native residents, and came home with amazingly detailed and accurate maps, journals, and sketches, which were given to President Jefferson.
To say that times have changed dramatically since Lewis and Clark is an understatement, yet today’s executives can still draw valuable lessons from it. Here are 5 of them:
1. Be Prepared
Thomas Jefferson’s choice of Meriwether Lewis to lead the expedition wasn’t based on politics, but on his absolute confidence in Lewis’ skills. The same principle applied in turn to Lewis’ choice of William Clark as co-leader. Preparation for the journey started a year in advance, and had Lewis learning medicine from a prominent Philadelphia physician, and astronomy and navigation from esteemed astronomer Andrew Ellicott. Lewis, who had access to Thomas Jefferson’s complete library, seized the opportunity, consulting existing maps, reading books, and sharpening his science and geography skills.
2. Recognize Great Skills When You See Them
Just as President Jefferson recognized the outstanding skills of Meriwether Lewis, and Lewis recognized William Clark’s talents, today’s outstanding executive is the one who looks beyond the surface to see each team member’s skills, so that they may be put to the best use. Likewise, along the trip, Lewis and Clark knew when to ask advice of and defer to members of the expedition who had better knowledge of situations they encountered, from coping with bad weather to establishing relationships with natives.
3. Build Strong Relationships
The Lewis and Clark expedition didn’t just blaze a trail to the Pacific Northwest, but got to know people along the way and learned from them. For example, the guidance and exceptional equestrian skills of the Shoshone Indians helped the team over the imposing Bitterroot Mountains. Throughout the trip, even when they were almost all the way back to their St. Louis starting point, the team continued to trade and develop diplomatic relations with cultures they encountered. Professional relationships are the oil that keeps the engine of business running smoothly, and always will be.
4. Follow Through
Finally, today’s outstanding executive understands the power of simply not giving up. Follow-through is important whether you’re cooking dinner, closing a deal, or climbing a mountain. Lewis and Clark didn’t find a continuous waterway to the Pacific, but that didn’t stop them. Furthermore, they took advantage of the opportunity to catalog and sketch the natural habitats and to bring back plant, seed, and mineral specimens, knowing they would eventually be valuable. They learned some of the languages and practices of the native tribes, and in general followed through on the enormous commitment they had made to Thomas Jefferson.
5. Keep Good Records
There is really no excuse for not keeping good records in today’s world, particularly when you consider the extensive records that the Lewis and Clark team amassed during the two years they traveled the continent. Before heading back to St. Louis, the team constructed Fort Clatsop on the south bank of the Columbia River to overwinter and prepare for their return. But they didn’t just lie around doing nothing. Lewis in particular used the time to write all he could about the trip, especially about what the botany the team encountered in the old growth forests of the west. Consequently, once they were back east, they were inundated by requests from zoologists, botanists, and agricultural aficionados (including Thomas Jefferson), which only multiplied their opportunities.
What might it be like to embark on an outdoor adventure with your team? You don’t have to attempt the equivalent of finding the Northwest Passage, but getting outdoors and climbing a mountain as a team can confer multiple, long-lasting benefits. People display talents you didn’t know they had, and getting to know people in a context other than the one you’re used to strengthens team relationships. Today’s business leader can still learn from a major expedition that took place two centuries ago, because some lessons are timeless. I invite you to contact me about booking a speaking engagement and helping you and your team learn how to go from good to great through the power of adventure.
Climbing mountains with others builds camaraderie and cohesion unlike anything else.
This is true even on easy climbs – the ones that are more “walking” than “climbing” and don’t require ropes and harnesses. For this reason, mountain climbing can be the ideal team building activity.
Sometimes the best team building happens away from the normal place of business.
Planning and executing a climb has several parallels with achieving lofty business goals. In both instances, a team aligns to tackle a big job, and then works hard to reach the (real or metaphorical) pinnacle. Both tasks incorporate ambiguity and a certain amount of risk, and though a positive outcome is expected, reaching that outcome may involve overcoming various obstacles through teamwork.
When you and your group are climbing a mountain, weather, illness, and other factors may interfere with a straightforward hike to the top. In business, market changes, new competitors, or technological breakthroughs can alter your team’s path. The parallels between climbing and successfully running a business can be striking. Here’s why team building is remarkably effective at 10,000 feet.
Climbing, Meditation, and Team Building
Climbing a mountain, even in the company of a group of people, is a meditative process. Your muscles are doing the work and your mind has a break from the normal demands made on it, like a constant stream of text messages, emails, and other office-related distractions. It’s very hard to find that level of calm in a work setting, or indeed most places outside of nature. A team building hike up a mountain gives everyone a different perspective. Not only do you see your colleagues outside their “normal habitat,” you have a chance to pick up on entirely different cues than usual, and discover qualities your co-workers have that you may not have known about.
Climbing as a Meaningful Team Building Accomplishment
Working with teammates in a different context can open up many new insights.
The ascent up a mountainside can be seen as a representative of the achievement of the business goals your team pursues back at the workplace. The team building aspect comes from the need for everyone to use their skills to help overcome the obstacles inherent in any trek. Naturally, you prepare well, and go into it with a positive attitude, but team cohesion and learning happen when each team member is ready to handle whatever the adventure has in store. You can reach surprising conclusions about your colleagues that may never have become evident at the office.
The Art of Planning without Rigidity
A degree of flexibility is required in climbing a mountain that isn’t necessarily part of other types of team building exercises. While you need a plan, what you don’t need is dogma. Climbing is a perfect opportunity to discover that original plans are good, but they aren’t always the best plans, and as the team learns from the adventure itself, the plan can be improved along the way. Think of your plan for mountain climbing as a general map rather than as specific, turn-by-turn directional guidance. You may have to deviate a bit from your plan, but it can still continue to guide you toward your goal.
While there is no substitute for commitment and determination in reaching a business goal, sometimes the best strategy includes time to step outside what’s normal and tackle a new challenge together as a team. What you’re doing is not wasting time, or giving up, but rather adding a new perspective, one that can ultimately help the team function at a higher level than it could have otherwise. I invite you to get in touch with me to find out more about booking a speaking engagement. I would be more than happy to hear from you.
Leadership Strength Training
Not all great leaders are straight out of central casting. Some of them surprise us with their effectiveness, while others from whom we expect great things disappoint us. Ultimately, a person doesn’t become a great leader by playing it safe. Leadership is an adventure, and leaders who see it as such and are prepared are likelier to excel and inspire. But leadership is not a passive off the couch skill, it needs it’s own development and training regimen; think of it as Leadership Strength Training. Here are some recent findings on the advantages of pursuing leadership as an adventure rather than a chore or a birthright.
What Are the Most Essential Leadership Skills?
A Wharton School study of 20,000 leaders from a few years ago identified six skills, Leadership Strength Training skills, that, when together as a comprehensive toolkit, maximize leadership effectiveness. They are as follows:
• Anticipation Ability – which is not about predicting the future, but about taking stock of what customers want, understanding where they’re coming from, and learning to make informed projections
• Willingness to Challenge the Status Quo – whether that means challenging someone else’s assumptions or (perhaps more importantly) challenging their own
• Skill at Interpreting Data and its Context – in a world where information is abundant, conflicting, and complex. Exceptional leaders don’t cherry pick data, but take it all, synthesize it, recognize patterns, and form insights based on the facts.
• Decisiveness – which is a careful balance between considering multiple options and having the courage of one’s convictions
• Ability to Align Goals and Objectives – so everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction, and so departmental goals and objectives align with overall organizational goals and objectives
• Willingness to Learn from Every Project – whether it succeeds or fails. Organizations that punish rather than learn from mistakes squash innovation and lead people to waste effort covering up mistakes that could offer valuable lessons.
All are necessary, and only a full suite of these capabilities is sufficient for outstanding leadership. A leader will naturally excel at some more than others, but none can be neglected.
Developing Strengths and Knowing What Complements Them
The best leaders surround themselves with talented people whose skills complement their own.
While leaders should be well-rounded, they can’t be proficient at everything. Just as the pitcher and the first baseman sharpen different skills, one leader will be stronger in some leadership areas and less strong in others. Excellent leaders work on improving and maintaining strengths, doing their best in all areas of leadership, but also surrounding themselves with complementary skills. Just as you wouldn’t put together a baseball team of only third basemen, neither would you assemble a leadership team where everyone has the same strengths.
The Importance of Leaders Surrounding Themselves with Excellence
When leaders surround themselves with “yes-men,” they do everyone a disservice. Genuine, capable leaders know they must surround themselves with people of excellence whom they can trust to be honest and call things as they see them. The leader whose team members are committed to the truth, even when the truth is painful, is the leader whose team moves forward and doesn’t become mired in politics. If nobody on the team is willing to say that the Emperor has no clothes, the results can be ridiculous to disastrous.
Strong Leaders Care About Their Followers
Finally, strong leaders care about team members. People willingly follow leaders who offer trust, stability, hope, and compassion. A 2006 Gallup survey found that when asked about the leaders in their lives, people often described a family member, teacher, friend, or immediate supervisor – in other words, someone whose impact was direct and close. This indicates that leaders perceived as remote or aloof aren’t as effective as leaders who take time to understand their teams, know what makes team members tick, and lead and interact accordingly.
Effective leaders aren’t effective if they think of leadership as a chore. Nor are they effective if their primary justification for their leadership position is that it was “their turn.” The best leaders see leadership as an adventure, and they prepare well for it. They know and sharpen their strengths, surround themselves with talent, sometimes question the status quo, and genuinely care about the people they lead. When these qualities come together in someone who is committed, energetic, positive, and hard-working, results can far surpass expectations. Focus in on your Leadership Strength Training and you’ll start to see the results rapidly.
High-Performance Team Development
My final hopes of staying dry and warm disappeared as the winds picked up and the precipitation began moving horizontally instead of vertically – our days of sun, warm rock, and blue-bird skies were over. We knew this moment was coming, we just weren’t sure when. Here it was though – now the real work began, the real test: safely climb another 1000 feet of technical and unknown terrain in inclement weather and summit an unclimbed peak. This was the adventure we were looking for and this was the best team I could imagine being out here with; for reasons different than I would have guessed previous to the expedition. We had inadvertently built a high-performance team.
Teamwork, we know it when we see it and we certainly know when it isn’t present. Teamwork is a transient experience that needs both a strong foundation and consistent attention to propel into high performance. While high-performance teams may appear elusive, the foundation for maintaining and achieving high performance is clear and attainable: a group of people with specific roles, complementary talents and skills, all aligned and committed to a common goal. Throw in a solid skill set of collaboration, innovative and creative problem solving, and a results driven environment and your team has moved into the high-performing realm.
MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory identified a series of characteristics to evaluate high-performing teams and separate tangible and repeatable behaviors for high performance. Below are a list of characteristics, derived from the HBR and MIT’s HDL, to support and sustain a high-performance team, additionally, the list can be utilized as a tool to evaluate strengths and identify areas of challenge.
- Set and define clear and specific goals
- Clearly defined roles and responsibilities
- Transparent conflict resolution
- Positive, appreciative, and future focused atmosphere
- Atmosphere of trust and generous risk tolerance
- Diversity in perspective and execution
- Environment of clear and open communication – allowance for exploratory thinking without judgement
- Individual engagement and input encouraged and expected by all team members
Looking back at the final 1000′ feet of climbing on The Dragon’s Spine in Alaska – I can clearly identify what allowed us to not only succeed and reach the summit but to build a team foundation that gave us the gumption to dream and do even bigger ascents in the years to come. For us, the combination of a positive, appreciative and future focused atmosphere allowed us to all embrace our audacious goals and subsequently increased our sense of trust and tolerance for risk. We had inadvertently created a high-performance team. Cover the bases of the above characteristics and great things can happen – just be sure to tend to the team and support long term health, burn-out and overwhelm can always be waiting around the corner, but that’s a topic for another day…
The Path of the Greatest Gain // High Endeavors
Clarifying Your High Endeavors Creates a Clear Route toward Summit Success
We choose our high endeavors. We choose endeavors, mountains (metaphorical or real) that move us to connect our value and our actions. These mountains change us, and the more challenging the mountain, the more we have to gain. The lessons learned and applied throughout our lives occur long after we have stood on the summit. The most significant lesson we face as leaders lay not in the brute success of standing on the summit, but in the nuanced application of the lessons learned in the process of our ascent and the sustained learning continues by applying those lessons forward to all arenas of our lives. Our integrity as leaders is evident in our ability to maintain focus and direction towards our high endeavors regardless of external influence and factors.
The lessons gained from past experiences, our previous mountains, help us frame what to pursue in the future. It is that core sense of applying our values that clarifies our direction and refines our ability to choose and engage in future high endeavors. And yet, it is so easy to become derailed from our route and loose track of the very thing that drives and motivates us as individuals and as an organization. We can all be derailed by both the shiny new metal object that steals our attention and by the feeling of overwhelm and impossibility that can result in our shrinking away from our path to the summit.
Leading with Integrity
An essential component of our high endeavors is our individual and personal relationship with that endeavor. What comes with that is an understanding and acknowledgment that external definitions of success, what or how things ‘should’ be, and others or outside cultural influences offer no practical value or foundational support for you, or your organization’s, sustained success. External definition can provide momentary satisfaction and validation when facing challenges but they also can derail us from our personal and unique high endeavors by placing meaning and importance on something outside of ourselves.
So how do we maintain full engagement so that we can attain those summits and keep our High Endeavors top of mind?
Start on Route
As I discussed in an earlier post regarding starting your day with a breath and not a bang, starting our day, or our week, on target with specific and measurable goals that support our high endeavor keep us oriented and moving in the right direction. This can be as simple as fifteen minutes of free association journaling to act as a brain dump and reorient ourselves or a detailed scan of our calendar to add, remove, or adjust our schedule to work for us as a ship’s rudder toward our goals. Stay on route, while climbing a new or established route it quickly becomes apparent when you go off route: the rock quality degrades, the options for safety protection diminish, the movement becomes less fluid and less obvious: you begin to struggle both physically and mentally. The same thing occurs when we move off route from our high endeavors.
Block and Protect Your Time
Your time is precious and non-negotiable. Want to work towards your high endeavors? Protect your time at all cost and allocate it to work for you in service of your high endeavors. Be vigilant and disciplined that your time is yours and yours to decide how to use it.
Remove Distracting Tasks
Distracting tasks creep in from all directions to distract, entertain, and maintain the status quo by keeping us so busy and involved with minutiae that we don’t have the capacity to attend to the bigger picture. When these tasks get in the way our high endeavors remain in a distant future waiting for us to someday attend to them – that distant future will remain distant as long as we allow lesser tasks to dictate our time and energy. Say no, delegate, do anything you can to clear your path and remove lesser tasks from becoming a barrier.
Front of Mind
Keep you high endeavors front of mind. A simple notecard or photo on your desk, a phrase taped onto your laptop, any simple reminder that cues you to stay present that your decisions, actions, and time demand that you keep your high endeavors front of mind and necessitate decision making to maintain that immediacy.
Your High Endeavor // Your Values in Action
Want a little support in clarifying your high endeavors or connecting the dots between your high endeavors and the mission of your organization? I have a workbook that has a handful of exercises that can help with this process; email me with your thoughts / ideas and I’ll send a copy your way.
Complete leadership failure. I hadn’t showered in three weeks, I was sunburnt, and I weighed twenty pounds less than I did when we started 21 days ago. I was despondent and exhausted. As an assistant guide on my first trip to climb Denali, North America’s highest peak, I was hopefully, energetic, and open to influence; that was three weeks ago. Now I was tired, depressed, and lethargic. Our team was in a similar state. The mountain had dealt us a difficult hand: colder than normal temperatures, high winds, and unrelenting snow fall. Our expedition leader, my mentor on this climb, had dealt us an even more difficult hand: distracted leadership and I as a junior staff struggled to find my own voice and authority. We failed as leaders. It wasn’t pretty.
“The X-Factor of Great Leadership is Not Personality, it’s Humility”
— Jim Collins
There is always uncertainty associated with an expedition; with any significant project. It’s embedded in the nature of the endeavor. Uncertainty is necessary and as team members we were not only aware of it, but we also welcomed it. Uncertainty gave the experience vitality and energy.
Yet, our challenges faced on Denali that May were not defined by the environmental uncertainty on the mountain. The uncertainty was a reflection of our leaders distracted presence and our (his and my) inability to find common ground as co-leaders and support the expedition as a whole. No one was injured, but no one succeeded to either reach the summit or walk away with a satisfying experience: we ran a toxic expedition.
The leadership failure did not come as a result of the team leader’s, nor my, lack of technical skill. We had all of the bases covered and handled the technical challenges with ease. Our leadership failure came from within: our character and ability to self-assess and course correct.
Looking back on the expedition and the dynamic offers an opportunity for learning. Where did we go wrong? What missteps were made? Were we aware of them? What distracted us? Why did I struggle to intervene and assert more influence? The list of post-mortem questions goes on.
Reflecting on the expedition as a whole and the challenges we faced, one key take-away stuck with me as a leader. Ask this question: Am I open to having my ideas challenged?
Are we as leaders, co-leaders, and team members open to both having our ideas challenged and challenging the ideas of those around us? Can we do it in a constructive way that supports the expedition to reach the summit? How much discomfort and strife do we allow to develop before asking these questions?
If my co-leader and I had approached the expedition initially from this perspective of humility and maintained an orientation towards the ultimate health and success of the expedition our ultimate outcome would have been dramatically different. Instead, self-assessment and open dialogue fell to the wayside and personal ego and pride directed the course of our expedition: we all failed.
I just wrapped up a successful (and really fun!) expedition climb to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. While Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, standing at 19,341 feet, it is also an amazingly diverse cultural and biodiverse experience. Climbing Kilimanjaro offers a full experience and never disappoints with surprises and beauty.
This year I took eight leaders on the expedition and while we are all continuing to process the experience and learning, suffice it to say the experience offered a deeper level of learning than we imagined. I will write a more detailed post in the next weeks offering some of the lessons learned.
Below is a short video taken while climbing early in the expedition:
The Kilimanjaro Project – 2016
I am really excited to announce that after offering individual leadership development experiences on Kilimanjaro that I am now formally offering Kilimanjaro summit climbs as a part of our High Performance Leader development program for teams and organizations. The Summit Leadership – Kilimanjaro Project will be a year long experience that culminates in a team summit climb of Kilimanjaro. We will begin the program with a two-day offsite that focuses on team development and individual leadership strengths and challenges. Following the kick-off the program will shift toward individual coaching and focus on strength building. The culmination of the Kilimanjaro will conclude with an ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341 ft.) via the Lemosho Route. Project start dates will begin in July and January each year with summit expeditions to Kilimanjaro occurring in June and November. We will limit each team to ten members. If you would like more information for your team or organization contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org More details to follow shortly! Super excited to offer this in 2016!
The Lemosho Route Detail
Want to see what a Kilimanjaro expedition looks like? Check out a video from a previous Kilimanjaro Expedition:
The Five Elements of Adventure provide a framework from which to examine and engage as leaders in both our personal and professional lives. Leadership is an art. Applying it in the realm of adventure challenges and pushes leaders to the brink. Take a closer look at the narrative of some of the most inspiring and unbelievable adventures and you will not only see [Read more…]