Leadership Ascent

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12,000 feet

It happens at 12,000 feet. That’s the point in a climb of Mt. Rainier when the going gets toughest. This spot on the mountain is called, aptly, the Disappointment Cleaver. The cleaver is the steepest, most exposed section of the standard route up Mt. Rainer. Not surprisingly, it’s also the place where many people find that they’ve had quite enough and decide to turn around.

But there’s something even more important that happens right around this point in a climb of Mt. Rainier. It’s when the first glimpses of sunrise start to break over the horizon. A summit attempt of Rainier is typically started in the middle of the night, and climbing parties will usually reach the top of the Disappointment Cleaver around 4:00 AM. After several hours of heads down, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other climbing, you get a hard-earned break atop the cleaver. Sitting there in the dark, on the snow, you take a look around. Past the glow of the headlamps, you see it: A pitch black sky filled with more stars than you’re ever imagined. And there, in the distance, is the very beginning of the sunrise – fluorescent crimson burning in the eastern sky.

Cold, exhausted, and doubting your resolve, you remember that THIS is why you came here in the first place. The summit is still several hours, and thousands of steps, ahead. But sitting there, atop the cleaver, you realize that it’s not about the summit after all. It’s about the moments along the way that make the climb worth it in the first place. It’s about the sheer sense of inspiration, adventure, and wonder you feel as you sit there at 12,000 feet, watching the sun rise.

Leadership is a lot like climbing a mountain. Many would have you believe that it’s all about results, meeting objectives, tagging the proverbial summit. Not so! Leadership can be – needs to be – about something more. It’s about remembering why you set out on this journey in the first place. It’s about connecting with what compels you to move forward despite the obstacles in your way. It’s about the moments of inspiration that give you the passion to press on.

What mountains are you climbing as a leader? In your life? Are you focused solely on the summit – the end goal? What called you to this journey in the first place? What inspires you along the way?


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