To Be a Better Leader, Lead Like a Guide

llag_hi-res-2A distant snow-capped mountain peak beckoning through the clouds can effectively serve as a metaphor for an organization’s vision and top-level goals.  Visualizing standing on the summit, with its promise of uncharted horizons beyond, stirs the heart and inspires people to reach as high as they can.  Inspiration alone, however, will not produce sustained or tangible change in an enterprise.  With a clear vision, a sense of purpose, a committed team, and a path to the summit identified, what happens next in both mountaineering and in organizations is largely dependent on leadership.

This explains why mountaineers and world-class guides are so often asked by company leaders to talk about how the challenges they have confronted relate to those of organizations facing their own rapidly changing business landscapes.  My new book, Lead Like a Guide:  How World-Class Mountain Guides Inspire Us to Be Better Leaders, (Praeger, 2016) includes lessons I learned from expert guides as I organized over twenty mountain climbing and trekking expeditions in countries ranging from Patagonia to Iceland to Nepal.  My research describes six key leadership strengths of guides and explains how these strengths help their clients achieve new heights – and how these same strengths can be successfully applied in business and nonprofit organizations.

THE SIX LEADERSHIP STRENGTHS OF WORLD-CLASS MOUNTAIN GUIDES

  • First, a guide rapidly establishes positive interactions with clients, which draws on emotional and social intelligence. 
  • Second, a guide accurately senses when mountain conditions call for a change in leadership style, and makes that change smoothly. 
  • Third, a guide identifies and builds on a client’s strengths, and provides a supportive space for growth and development. 
  • Fourth, a guide creates an environment of trust, imparting confidence in their own skills as a guide while also helping clients learn to trust themselves and their teammates. 
  • Fifth, a guide attends to the welfare of clients as weather or mountain conditions change, accurately assessing and managing risk in an environment of uncertainty. 
  • Finally, rather than holding a singular focus on the summit, a guide retains the ability to see the big picture throughout the journey. 

To purchase a copy of Lead Like a Guide:  How World-Class Mountain Guides Inspire Us to Be Better Leaders, click here.


Chris Maxwell is a Senior Fellow, Center for Leadership and Change Management, at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Chris previously taught “Leadership and Communication in Groups” at the Wharton School and directed a wide variety of domestic and international leadership development programs in remote areas of North America, Mexico, Patagonia, Peru, Quebec, and Iceland.

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