rock climbing business lessons

It might surprise you how much business leaders can learn from an activity as rooted in counter culture and rebellion as rock climbing. After all, until the nationwide explosion of climbing gyms brought the activity into the mainstream, the thought of rock climbing conjured images of unkempt, muscled women and men camped out in Yosemite Valley, forsaking creature comforts in favor of the simple freedom of an impossible pursuit: conquering mountains. Rock climbing’s pioneers were proud, self-proclaimed “dirt bags.” They were also practitioners of something bordering on the spiritual.

Through the relentless pursuit of fighting gravity, rock climbers found themselves in what we now know as a flow state: the task was meaningful to them, the challenge was aligned with their physical and mental ability levels, it was worthy of—and even required— their full attention, and ultimately, the act of reaching their goal brought them immense joy.

Of course, while rewarding…rock climbing is also terrifying. Human beings aren’t meant to balance precariously on shallow hand and foot holds hundreds of feet above the ground. Sheer rock walls are for animals of a soaring character—for birds, not bipeds. The natural response to being so far outside one’s comfort zone is to bear down with the force of an instinct forged over millennia. Ironically, holding on for dear life is a sure way to fall.

Well, the same can be said about entrepreneurship. Here are 4 lessons that law firm leaders can learn from rock climbers:

1. Make friends with your fear & find your flow

As in rock climbing, business leaders need to meet intense fear with profound calm. Moments where you might otherwise hold your breath are those wherein you need to breathe deepest. Mastery of this opens the door to the mythical flow-state of effortless focus that, on the hardest of climbs, is the key to continuing upward. Gaining this ability not only allows you to climb well; it also allows you to weather life’s toughest moments with grace.

Experts who have written about flow state describe it as the achievement of ordered consciousness. Most well-known among these is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who explains that, “[when in this state] attention can be freely invested to achieve a person’s goals because there is no disorder to straighten out, no threat for the self to defend itself against.”

Law firm leaders must find the state of flow where there is no threat against which they must defend themselves. Failure is okay. Letting go is okay. Leaders must learn to trust that the proverbial rope will catch them. And leaders who believe that the challenges that lie ahead are meaningful, within their ability level, worthy of their full attention, and that succeeding in them will be immensely joyful will be able to find that flow state…

2. Find success in failure

In rock climbing, success doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve made it to the top. Sometimes “success” means that the climber has pushed one or two moves further before taking a fall. Sometimes it means that they’ve stepped outside their comfort zone to explore a new style of climbing, to develop a new skill that. Every fall that a climber takes is rich drenched in the opportunity to learn and improve. The same is true in business. Every failure comes hand-in-hand with a lesson that, if learned, will bring you closer to succeeding somewhere down the line.

3. Assess real vs. perceived risks

Taking a fall while rock climbing is less risky than one might think. Climbers use protection to prevent them from hitting the ground, so, even though a fall may be scary—falling 10’, 15’ or even 20’ through the air is a less-than-confidence-inspiring feeling—there is very little risk that anything serious could go wrong.

In business, leaders need to assess risk much the same way as climbers do. Could the outcome of this decision end my career? Shutter my business? No? Then reach for that next handhold and trust that your protection will catch you long before you hit the ground. Remember, these setbacks will ultimately drive your success.

4. Rethink what’s possible

Five years ago, not a single person had imagined for even a second that it was possible for a climber to free solo one of the most difficult climbs on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Except for Alex Honnold, of course. The National Geographic documentary, Free Solo, showed the first ropeless ascent of an incredibly challenging route up a 3,000’ foot wall. The “impossible” has been proven not-so-impossible after all.

Most business leaders have drawn a line in the sand between what they believe is possible, and what they believe is not. Maybe it’s time to channel your inner Alex Honnold and dream a little bit bigger. Step over that line. In fact, erase the line completely and embrace the limitlessness of the success that is possible for you.

The state of current affairs is as terrifying as rock climbing: a global pandemic with no end in sight; political tension; social turmoil; economic uncertainty; and let’s not forget about the everyday stressors of running a small law firm or business. But, as in rock climbing, panic will not serve you well. In fact, panic is what might send you careening off the wall and into the abyss.

As in rock climbing, business leaders need to learn how to get comfortable with failure, use failure to motivate progress, assess risk, take risks, dream bigger, and—most importantly—trust that, no matter what, everything is going to be okay.

Of course, learning to look at leadership the same way a climber looks at a sheer, looming rock wall takes time and practice. We can help! Our 66-Day Law Firm Turnaround program is designed to change the way leaders and their teams approach their daily tasks, with guaranteed improvements in your firm’s processes, people, productivity and profit…in 10-weeks or less. Schedule a free qualifier call today and find out of your firm is a candidate for this game-changing program.

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