Lessons From on Top of the World

At the PTDA Summit in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Alison Levine give the keynote address. Alison is an adventurer and mountaineer even though she has a medical condition that makes it even more life-threatening to climb extreme elevations. She has climbed the highest peak on every continent, served as the team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition and skied across the Arctic Circle to the geographic North Pole.

Here are my takeaways from her speech. One thing about climbing mountains, it puts critical decisions into perspective really fast. Plus your judgment better be good, since a wrong decision can cost you and/or others your lives.

  • Do more with less. Amen! I think especially in America we desperately need to learn this lesson. I feel there is a real fundamental issue with storage warehouses popping up all over the place.
  • Do whatever it takes. It’s that old “a job worth doing is worth doing well.” Put your best step forward every day.
  • Ask the right questions … and keep asking. It can be easier for others to say no then for them to help you with the solution. Keep asking questions until you get to yes.
  • Don’t let fear stop you from doing things you want to do.Sometimes you just have to step up to the plate and go for it. I have found this to be very true. You can always “what if” a situation to death and rationalize not doing it, but growth comes from saying yes to those experiences that will stretch you.
  • The team has to care about the team — but they also need the right skills for the environment. I think any manager can agree with this. It can’t be just the leader who cares about the team and the end goal. It has to be felt and wanted by all on the team. At the same time, alignment and passion for a goal isn’t always enough, there has to be the right match of skill sets and resources to get you to the end game.
  • Take a big goal and break it down into smaller parts. What has to happen to get step one, etc. We all hear about setting BHAGs, but that can be overwhelming to the team and to the process. Breaking a big goal into key milestones makes it much easier to tackle.
  • Even when going backwards you can still be making progress. Just going forward is not always progress. This doesn’t sound right, but boy is it true. Especially in my experience with product development. Sometimes you have to go backwards to get to the right outcome. Course corrections are a reality, charging ahead without checking in to the goals and the current reality can be extremely costly.
  • Fear is OK — complacency is what will kill you. Fear is actually a good tool you can use to your advantage. You have to be able to react to the environment around you as things are shifting. Even when things are calm there can still be risk
  • Build relationships. It is not just about being social – it is about creating a support system. That may even be with other teams, allies, or competitors — cross teams. Think about whom outside our team will you need to call on for help? Work to form strategic partnerships. NO ONE gets to the summit by themselves.
  • Sometimes no matter how good you are prepared — things can still go wrong. How you react to the situation is key. Will having setbacks blows up your team or will you manage it so that it bonds the group together?
  • Deal with change – “storms” are ALWAYS temporary. You just have to be able to take action based on the situation not your “plan.” You have to realize that your plans are always outdated. Focus on execution versus following a plan
  • Celebrate each milestone of the process.
  • Have the judgment to make tough calls. Do you have the ability to turn around and walk away from the deal that is no longer good? You also have to be able to make good decisions even when the conditions are far from perfect. If the conditions aren’t right, cut your losses turn around and walk away. Remember, one person’s poor judgment can take down an entire organization. It is not about reaching the summit but the lessons you learned along the way and how you use those lessons going forward. There will always be more mountains to climb.
  • Embrace failure. Previous failures are important tools for learning and achieving future goals. Make sure you can tolerate failure. You need room to fail to get innovation.
  • Perspective – when you finally reach that summit or end goal, take time to reflect and learn. Make sure you get new viewpoints and learn from the experience.

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