On June 3, 2017 Alex Honnold scaled the famous El Capitan. El Capitan is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park. The granite monolith extends about 3,000 feet from base to summit and is considered one of the world’s most challenging climbs.
What made Honnold’s ascent extraordinary is that he did it solo.
He climbed without a safety rope and he did it alone.
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In an interview afterwards, Honnold said he has been climbing for more than 20 years and that he has been preparing for this day for the last nine. In fact, when asked by Mark Synnott, a writer from National Geographic what he would say to his grandkids Honnold responded, “kids, that thing takes about four hours to climb by yourself—after years of effort.”
Equipping is similar to training. The difference is that training is generally focused on how to do a specific task. When you equip someone, you’re giving them a set of tools and supplies to do their job. But in addition to having the right skills and the right equipment they also need experience and they need mindset.
Equipping leaders is similar to how Alex Honnold prepared himself to scale El Capitan.
In business, I believe success is 80% mindset and 20% skill set. People do not fail because of lack of skills – we’ve talked about that before. They fail because of lack of passion for the mission, a lack of belief in themselves and/or a lack of resourcefulness to keep trying.
In many interviews, Honnold has talked about the preparation. He said he has climbed the route many times to make sure he was prepared physically. He would rappel down to specific sections so he could work on individual sections or memorize certain moves. However, he said the biggest thing was, “…the psychological side of it, feeling like you’re ready to climb a wall like that. That was a longer process.”
For a leader, we can read about leadership and we can study leadership. But knowing is different than doing. We are not equipped until we have developed the mind-set of a leader. We are not equipped until we can execute and lead in the face of great danger or in face of great opportunity.
Honnold knew how to climb. However, being able to execute the climb, knowing that one mistake could cost him his life, that took years of mental and physical preparation. To execute the climb solo meant he needed to manage his fear and stay resourceful and stay confident as he executed his ascension strategy.
Leaders need to lead during good times and bad times. The test for leaders is how they lead during challenging times. Crisis does not make a leader. Crisis reveals a leader. When you squeeze an orange you get orange juice. When a person is squeezed, whatever has been developed in them is what comes out whether it’s positive or negative, courage or fear, leader or follower.
All the training in the world will not develop the mindset to lead under pressure. You must turn your people loose and allow them to gain the experience. When turning them lose give them responsibility, authority and accountability.
Responsibility – Poor managers want to control every detail of their peoples’ work. When that happens, the potential leaders who work for them become frustrated and don’t develop. Rather than desiring more responsibility, they become indifferent or avoid responsibility altogether. If you want your people to take responsibility, give them responsibility.
Authority – With responsibility must go authority. People are genuinely empowered when responsibility and authority come together. Please note, when we first give authority to new leaders, we are actually giving them permission to have authority rather than giving them authority itself.
George Davis, in Magic Shortcuts to Executive Success, notes:
Authority is not something we buy, are born with, or even have delegated to us by our superiors. It is something we earn—and we earn it from our subordinates. No manager has any real authority over his people until he has proved himself worthy of it—in the eyes of his people—not his own, nor those of his superiors.
We must give our people permission to develop authority. That is our responsibility. They, in turn, must take responsibility for earning it.
Accountability – Once responsibility and authority have been given to people, they are empowered to make things happen. But we also must be sure they are making the right things happen. That is where accountability comes into the picture.
If we have built the right culture, established a relationship and have demonstrated learning is more important than perfection then our people will embrace accountability. The leaders part of accountability involves taking the time to review the new leaders work and giving honest, constructive criticism. It is crucial that the leader be supportive and it is crucial the leader be honest.
If you want your leaders to be equipped to reach heights never scaled before then you need to focus on doing more than just training. You need to focus on equipping.
What are you doing to equip your leaders and help ensure their success? Developing leaders should be a critical component of your overall organizational strategy. If you don’t have a strategy in place, we can help – schedule a discovery session to find out more.