Nine Observations on Leadership From North America’s Highest Peak

7/8/13Follow @xconomy

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questions about ‘what’s for breakfast tomorrow?’ or ‘what time will we be waking up tomorrow?’ or ‘should I wear my mittens or my heavy gloves tomorrow?’

Riquelme was wise enough to not get sucked into answering all these kinds of questions, especially while he was still gathering information that would shape his decisions. If the weather was good enough for a push ahead, then we’d need a high-calorie breakfast, for example. He knew that if he walked through a bunch of scenarios, he’d run the risk of being second-guessed, or just wasting time explaining minutiae. His policy seemed to be this—when you have something to say, say it clearly, succinctly, and consistently.

Keep it light. For all his focus and discipline, Riquelme also had a great sense of humor, and made sure to provide plenty of time for comic relief, especially when the whole team came together at night for dinner in the cook tent. When you’re in an extreme environment like Denali, facing all kinds of risks, it’s easy to get wound up with the seriousness of it all. Just like people who do serious work on new cancer treatments, you have to joke around and laugh at yourself along the way.

Riquelme told lots of funny jokes to keep us all loose. Have you ever heard the one about the top four priorities of a mountain guide? No. 1 is lookin’ good. No. 2 is feelin’ good. No. 3, once again, lookin’ good. Fourth? Safety.

Celebrating the end of our Denali expedition in Talkeetna, AK.

Live in the moment. In mountaineering, some people obsess about the summit. It’s the ultimate goal. Reach it, and most people will say you’ve succeeded. But Riquelme, an admirer of Harvard University happiness researcher Dan Gilbert, talked little about the summit along the way. Instead, he led us to focus more on each single day’s activities, and enjoying living in the moment.

Partly, it can be a little overwhelming to think about getting to 20,320 feet when you’re down at 7,000 feet. But more than that, you’ll miss many of the pleasures along the way if you’re focused too much on the destination. By living in the moment, we were probably happier than we would have been if we fantasized constantly about the summit in the far distance. Turns out, we reached the ultimate goal, and it was a thrill. But the process of getting there—and seeing the million ways this ship stayed on course—was what really made this a truly great life experience.

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  • Bill Ghormley

    Wow, Luke!
    What an experience — what great takeaways!
    Thank you for taking us with you (;->
    Welcome back —
    Bill

  • http://thenextelement.wordpress.com/ scientre

    Enjoyed the last one – live in the moment. Whether Denali or drug development, focusing on the summit can be all consuming.

  • BiotechStockResearch

    A most excellent essay.

  • J. Thomas Ranken

    Great piece(s)!

  • Rich Asiodche

    Sounds like a great experience!