My outdoor experience has greatly influenced my business leadership strategies. This makes sense because I learned how to lead in the wild. Both require leaders that are willing to make high stakes decisions, evaluate all the information, act decisively & care for the team.
However, the difference between adventure leadership and the responsibility of the executive is an important one. In the wild, the consequences of bad leadership risk your physical health & safety. Bad choices in an early phase can massively impact the long term trajectory of a plan.
In the outdoors, something we learn early on is the concept of bailing. Despite our best efforts and intensive studying of weather maps, we can’t control when the storm rolls in to destroy the best laid plans of climbers & hikers. When this happens we have to make a decision. How vulnerable are we now? How far to safety? Summit, or bail?
This situation played out at the beginning of my climbing career. It was the first time I’d ever climbed any of the Flatirons in Colorado. It’s a 1000 ft, fairly mellow climb. On an exposed mountainside in Boulder, CO. We were young, not thinking it would take us that long, we started our journey way too late. The thunderstorms started approaching about halfway up the climb.
Make our first summit? Or ditch gear in order to bail? I was quick to make the call that a few pieces of gear & a summit was not worth the consequences of continuing on. It was a risk to continue, it was a risk to bail - but the worst decision was to do nothing.
I think about decisions in business the same way. There isn’t a choice that passes over our desks that doesn’t carry weight & risk. In a startup, every dollar, every minute is valuable. It costs time & momentum. Now, these consequences are far from life vs death. But, what better training for risk analysis than when your life literally depends on it.