The importance of having the right people on your leadership journey
Leadership is a journey that requires the right people on your side to help you reach the summit of your ultimate business milestone. No executive can reach the summit without a good team, whether climbing one of the world’s tallest mountains or striving toward the zenith of their career.
This was true for business leader Jim Whittaker. In 1963, he was the general manager of Recreational Equipment Inc. and became the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He did it with help from others.
Whittaker and a team of 19 people started their ascent up Everest in February. Along the way, some members chose to stay back due to sickness, injury, or fear of bad weather. Whittaker continued upward alongside guide Nawang Gombu.
By May, the two men were near the summit, but Whittaker and Gombu ran out of oxygen. They were now in serious danger, but they pushed upward and reached the top of Everest. They looked out over the world for 20 minutes, Whittaker planted an American flag, and then they began their dodgy descent.
Would Whittaker ever have made it to the summit without the help of the team or Gombu? Definitely not. The whole team challenged one another — Whittaker met the challenge. Soon, he became the CEO of REI, which saw huge sales growth in the coming years.
Here are just a few of the people you’ll need on your own leadership climb.
1. An objective executive coach
When you’re the leader, who else knows your struggle? It can feel as though you’re climbing alone.
This is why executive coaches are invaluable for executives. Like Gombu, who ensured Whittaker reached the top through his climbing experience, executive coaches will help you reach the top of your career through their career experience.
It’s an advantage to choose an executive coach who’s been in similar situations as a CEO. They’ve faced challenges and solved problems. Now, they coach and mentor CEOs, passing on what they’ve learned and challenging CEOs to exceed their own expectations.
Coaches can ask you unique questions that will help you reframe your challenges. Perhaps best of all, they can give you honest feedback, pointing out blind spots and potentially perilous traps along your journey.
2. Executive peers
Closer to earth, executives face little danger of running out of oxygen. But they face losing something almost as valuable: honest, objective feedback.
No matter how hard a CEO tries to build a culture of transparency, finding colleagues or subordinates who will give objective feedback is difficult. Most will be too close to the situation, trust your decision making, or won’t want to push back against your ideas. By having a trusted group of executive peers you’ll have a wealth of access to genuine insight.
Other executives will ask you questions you hadn’t considered. They’ll tell you whether your idea is good or bad, where it can be improved, and if they’ve seen anything similar themselves.
CEOs who participate in confidential peer groups have the advantage of getting feedback from executive peers leading in other industries — this provides them with diverse perspectives that aren’t constrained by institutional knowledge. Most importantly, your executive peers will create a safe environment, allowing you to talk about your true struggles and goals, then hold you accountable to make the changes needed.
For CEOs who feel that their climb to the top is lonely, finding a team of executive peers can feel akin to stumbling across a new world filled with vast resources. A team of executive peers can help you create an entirely new reality by building your confidence in your decision-making.
3. Trusted colleagues
Within the business, the executive team must be a CEO’s climbing team. The executive team is there with you, working to meet high-level goals and ensuring that the business is moving in the best strategic direction.
CEOs who take the responsibility to build an executive team of high performers are able to place their confidence and trust in that team. Think about it like this: If Whittaker didn’t select the right team to climb Mount Everest, would he have been able to trust that his team could help him succeed in his mission? At the most dire moment, when they were pushing to the top with no oxygen, all that was left for the climbing partners was the trust they had built, and that was what helped them prevail.
A great executive team is trustworthy and driven for success. They’ll be there to climb alongside you, especially when you’re facing the most arduous stretch of your leadership journey.
4. Talented employees
You need talented employees who will help you meet your company’s goals and make your vision come true. Executives who want to reach the top — both in their career and business — must hire and retain the best and brightest employees. As CEO, you want to be sure you have built a culture that values continual development of your employees so that they have the ability and skills to support the objectives you set forth.
Reaching the top
The journey to the top won’t be easy for CEOs, but the climb is possible with help and great resources.
One helpful resource is Vistage’s Journey to the Summit: The CEOs 7 Laws of Leadership guide.
This guide breaks down the seven laws of leadership, including rejecting shortcuts, creating space to work on the business, and challenging thinking with fresh perspectives. Mastering each of these seven laws will help get you to your next peak.