Business Lessons From Climbing Capitol Peak

When I stepped past my comfort zone this September and summited Capitol Peak in Colorado, a dream of mine for many years, I realized that the skills I needed during the climb and the emotions I felt when topping out have often helped me in business. Capitol Peak is the most difficult/dangerous of the 14ers -- a group of 54 mountains in Colorado that are over 14,000 feet, and believe me, it’s not for the faint of heart. A number of people have had serious injuries or lost their lives attempting this climb.

Here are those skills and emotions:

Commitment: A number of interruptions over the years kept me from doing the trip. Family illness, weather, name it. But I was determined to do it one day, and I knew I would. It's the same with business. If you have a plan to start a business, or to take one to a certain level, or if you want to rise to a certain level in someone else’s business, you’ve got to dedicate yourself to that goal. You may not get there right away, but you have to persevere and pledge to yourself that you will see it through.

Dreaming: You’ve got to have imagination if you want something. You have to be able to imagine your dream, visualize it and hold onto it to make it come true, no matter what that worthy vision is.

Achieving: Achieving goals gives you confidence, which I think is critical every time you walk into a room to win something, whether it’s a job, a deal or a line of credit.

Accomplishment: I’d say finishing what you set out to do is important all of the time. In mountain climbing there’s no shame in turning back if you realize you are not ready or weather gets in the way. But man, if you are ready, it can be a powerful feeling to finish what you set out to do. It’s similar in business: you can affect a lot of people’s lives for good if you’re able to finish what you started. For me the first step in overcoming my Attention Deficit Disorder is finishing everything I start.

Perseverance: If you could have seen me pushing myself on the mountain, especially in the hard spots, I think you would have been impressed. I impressed myself by my single-mindedness. You can’t let yourself get discouraged. If it’s not going to kill you, you have to take that next step. It’s one of the qualities entrepreneurs have; they keep at it because they have a purposeful goal that in their mind must be met no matter what.

Fortitude: Fortitude, or mental strength, is what helps you push on. I remember one of my first big climbs where my much more experienced partner told me that he could see me using the muscle between my ears to overcome my physically unprepared body. You’ve got to have fortitude in the business world, and you especially need to have it when you’re climbing a mountain.

Teamwork: You know that your creativity and productivity are multiplied when you have a team. Sometimes you realize you need each other, too. Like when I needed Ted, the experienced one, to let me know I could conquer a particularly hard part. And at the top, we congratulated each other. I’d like to think he benefited from being with me as a climbing partner just as I appreciated being with him.

Willpower and heart: Occasionally on that mountain, when I hit a couple heart-stopping spots I willed myself to take the next step. I wasn’t embarrassed to look back at my guide and show I was fearful and needed to look to him for guidance. When I got to the top, I just let it all out, how I was feeling about the job I had done and how thankful I was for everyone who helped me. No matter if you’re a CEO or a chairman, you have to be human and show your humanity and vulnerability; or what’s it all been for?

Strategy: When we were making decisions about how to tackle Capitol Peak, we were analyzing the best routes, what to look out for, and so forth. We were doing a personal SWOT, assessing my weaknesses and strengths and looking at the threats and opportunities. You’ve got to be able to come up with a strategy and all that entails to be safe but successful, just like you do to survive and move forward in business.

Planning: In planning for the trip, we considered what the necessities, tools and equipment would entail and did the hike in our minds before hitting the path. In business, having a plan and building a project on paper, in the computer and in our minds is critical to think through before putting a shovel in the ground. Using the strategy to plan, plan and plan is how you get to the summit,

Gratitude: When we were on the top of the mountain, I was so thankful for all those who supported me in this challenge and were there for me in my life. In business, too, if you don’t feel gratitude for people along the way, you just may not last long or do as well as you might have. You've got to be humble, seek out mentors and the best and brightest people to surround yourself with, and then acknowledge you can’t be successful without them.

Character: I have often been told and have seen many examples of people wanting me to win or be successful and rooting for me. I have needed that encouragement, especially when things get tough. I’d like to think that the values instilled in me by my parents are what people see in me that causes them to back me. They see me paying my success forward in hundreds of ways and they feel part of that.

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