How To Be A Leader Who Climbs The Walls

Posted 06.17.2009

Rockclimber A couple of days ago, I put out a question to my LinkedIn network on the best conferences for plugging in to fresh thinking on innovation and leadership.  The answers are still coming in, but so far the overwhelming favorite is the series of conferences known as TED. If you’re not familiar with TED, the good news is that the organizers have a very robust web site with dozens of videos of their best speakers online.

I’ve been spending some time browsing the site and one of my favorites is a four and a half minute clip of advertising exec and expert rock climber Matthew Childs talking about nine lessons he’s learned from rock climbing.  I’m not a rock climber myself (although I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve scaled the 40 foot high rock climbing wall at a local sporting goods store.  Kind of like staying at a Holiday Inn Express last night.), but I appreciated the applicability of Childs’ lessons to leadership in general.

Here are five of my favorites from Childs’ TED talk:

  1. Don’t let go – This sounds sort of obvious but Childs makes a really interesting point.  In rock climbing, you typically think about letting go long before you actually do.  The best climbers use that time to think through the rest of their options.
  2. Have a plan – Again, it sounds obvious on first blush. The less obvious point is that climbers often focus their planning and maximum effort on the hardest part of the climb and then find themselves without a plan or any gas left for finishing the climb. Plan it through to the end.
  3. Know how to rest –  I actually learned this at the sporting goods store. Climbing (and leadership) is a full body experience.  Your muscles (literally and figuratively) get tired.  It’s important to build in some rest breaks on the climb up. Otherwise, you lose your grip.
  4. Fear sucks – Childs makes the great point that all fear does is focus your energy and attention on the consequences of failing rather than figuring out how you’re going to advance up the rock.
  5. Know how to let go – Sometimes you can’t go any further without getting hurt. Childs advice is “don’t hang on until the bitter end.”  (If you have thoughts about how to distinguish between when to choose rule one or rule five, I’d love to hear them.)

The entire talk is worth a look.  You can check it out here.