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Part 1: Business lessons from Mount Cook
By Kim Goodhart
Remember the anxiety you felt when you were a kid and you were the last person picked for the sports team?
It’s never a nice feeling to know that you’re the weakest link on the team, but on a recent mountaineering trip across the Mount Cook Range – a demanding three day alpine trek through the Ball Pass Crossing – that’s the position I found myself in.
I’d committed to doing the crossing with my fiancé Steve – an accomplished athlete – his best mate Brian (a serious mountain biker) and Sasha, Brian’s wife and long distance trail runner. So, with our guide, Jono I found myself in the 5th position as the least fit, least experienced and totally naïve addition to the team – I had never even climbed a mountain!
To say I was anxious about the expedition would be an understatement. But Steve reassured me that I was fit enough to cope with the trip and that he would be there to support me. My team were also very quick to put me at ease. Steve had told them I would be fine and they trusted his judgement.
You can’t get there on your own
My team acknowledged my anxiety but they told me this wasn’t about any of us being the weakest link. That when it comes to trips like these, at any moment any one of them could become the weakest link. All it takes is bad luck – a slip can lead to a sprained ankle, a falling rock could hit someone on the head or an exposed rock face could trigger a moment of anxiety. Any of these will change the group dynamic in a second. Out in the wilderness that is the reality.
The goal is not for one person to make it in the fastest time, but for the team to make it to the end. To achieve that, the group must move as one – supporting and encouraging each other along the way – if we were going to successfully complete the three days of hiking, climbing and sometimes sliding through the Mount Cook National Park.
Day 1: Up the mountain
The first day was a steady uphill climb in the rain. I was quick to realise that the guide was asking me questions along the route to check to see if I could still talk. This is a simple way to test how well you are coping and he was setting the pace at my limits.
This made me a little anxious as I was concerned that the others wanted to go faster and that I was holding them back. It was fascinating for me to learn that holding other people back creates some anxiety for me but Steve supported me the whole way. He kept reassuring me that I was doing a great job and that I didn’t need to go any faster. That everyone was happy to go at my pace.
The truth was I couldn’t have gone any faster even if I’d wanted to. It was simply beyond my capabilities and so I had to let go and just do what I could. Every time the guide paused I knew I needed the moment to collect my breath before I could continue on to the next section.
My strength I’ve discovered is perseverance.
I don’t give up easily and while I may not have been able to move as quickly as the others, I can dig pretty deep, stay cheerful and keep moving forwards. But it was still a surprise to me that we made it to the top far faster than our guide anticipated. It turns out that just maintaining a steady pace actually gets you to the top pretty quickly.
As our guide said, it’s the breaks that slow you down. It’s a great reminder in business that it’s not about racing to the end. Moving too quickly can actually slow you down. It can lead to fatigue. It can lead to accidents and it can lead to mistakes all of which delay progress.
Business moral: If you want to get your team to the finish line in the fastest time, you need to set a pace that works for the whole group and that means setting the pace at a speed that everyone can maintain.
At the top we were welcomed with the first avalanche I’ve ever seen.
Standing on the edge of the peek by the Caroline Hut, with Mount Cook peering out at us between the clouds, the snow and rocks suddenly set themselves free. The load roar as they bounded and bounced down the edge of the mountain was something to behold.
The four of us watched in awe, silenced by the sheer impact and power of nature. It served as a reminder of how small we are as individuals on this planet and how beautiful the world around us really is. If it hadn’t been for that climb I would never have experienced anything like it. This was our reward.