On thin ice – discovering the power of vulnerability


Part 2: Business lessons from Mount Cook

By Kim Goodhart

It was day two of the trail across the Mount Cook Range – a demanding 3 day alpine trek through the Ball Pass Crossing – and the icy glacier beckoned.

I was helped into a pair of crampons, attached to a rope and given an ice axe. I’m still not entirely sure what I would have done with my ice axe but, in theory, had I found myself sliding down the ice my job was to slam my full body weight onto the axe and into the ice so that I could stop myself. I think to be honest it was at that point that I knew my life was in the hands of my group.

It’s a humbling feeling to know that you are now dependent on everyone around you –  acknowledge that you don’t have the skills to save yourself.

I also didn’t have the skills to save anyone else should something go wrong. The only thing I could do was sit. And, fortunately, that was all I was instructed to do.

If one of the group fell into a crevasse, I was told to immediately sit down and dig my crampons into the ground so the other 4 of us would hold the poor person who fell into the crevasse while our guide would pull them out to safety.

I was desperately hoping that that person would not be me, but the reality is that my falling into a crevasse would be best case scenario because the others were better equipped to pull me out than I was them – I realised, with mixed feelings, that I was not only the safest person in my group, but that my greatest risk was myself.

The only real thing I could see going wrong was the danger of me impaling myself with my ice axe in a fall. Other than that I was totally safe. If I fell my team would easily pull me out.

This was a foreign sensation for me.

I’m someone who generally feels pretty capable. I know how to look after myself. I’m pretty resilient and more often than not I think I tend to look after the people around me. However here on the glacier, I had to acknowledge a different position.

I had to put all my faith in everyone around me. I had to believe that if something went wrong, they would save me. If there was a real risk when would I be left behind? If this was a business team in what situation would I be dumped from the group? Was my position as the weakest link a real risk?

But the difference between a business team and the team crossing a mountain is that losing someone isn’t an option. No one was going to leave me there. We’d picked our team and now we were in this through thick and thin. No one gets left behind. At any point the group dynamic can change and a new person could become the weakest link. We all know that.

In life the unexpected might be a chronic illness, a divorce or a new baby. All of which may change the dynamic of your team, reducing someone else to the role of the weakest link. Do the team drop them? Or do they support them? Do they surround them to make sure they feel safe in their vulnerability, knowing that they will bring other strengths to the table at a later time? How often do we drop people for not being at the top all the time and how much do we lose as a result?

How satisfying is it to make it to the end knowing you left people behind along the way? What kind of a person would that make you? Isn’t the real goal to all make it to the end?

Business moral: I would argue that the strength of our team came from the loyalty and patience of each of us to the others. I was faster crossing the terrain than I otherwise would have been because I knew I could trust those around me. I could be open about my fears, and know that I wasn’t being judged. This brought out a strength in me – the power of vulnerability – to go further and faster than I ever would have believed possible.

 

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