Attaining any worthwhile success takes more than just willpower, well-defined objectives or a detailed strategy. It takes a readiness mindset and a team-driven approach to ensure a successful outcome. Data from thousands of successful Mount Kilimanjaro climbing expeditions show us that we can predict execution success, or at least increase its success rate, from the standard 20 percent to upward of 87 percent by applying six readiness principles.
The Kilimanjaro summit finds its place on many bucket lists. At 19,341 feet (5,895 meters), Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa and the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. Every year, more than 30,000 people attempt to reach Kilimanjaro Uhuru Peak, but not everyone who climbs reaches the summit. Research reveals that only 27 percent of those who embark on the easiest and quickest route reach peak Kilimanjaro, as opposed to 85 percent of those who choose the longest and the most challenging path – almost triple the success rate!
Why doesn’t the easiest route deliver the expected results? Why do people’s chances of success vary so significantly in relation to the number of days they spend on the mountain? What lessons can we take away from these climbing exhibitions, and how can we apply them to our own goals and strategies?
Individuals, teams and organizations can use the following six principles to reach their goals – whether they’re conquering Kilimanjaro, getting fit or successfully executing a corporate training strategy. These principles demonstrate that achieving success can become predictable by embracing a readiness mindset.
1. Know Why the Journey Is Worthwhile
It’s difficult to sustain motivation at high altitudes even if you’re physically and mentally fit, let alone if you are experiencing any self-doubt as to why you’re there in the first place. In order to achieve any worthwhile goal, you need to define your “why” before you begin.
When the initial spark of excitement disappears, your “why” becomes your oxygen; it will keep you going while you execute your strategy. Together with readiness, it’s the fuel you will need to endure the ever-changing altitudes on the way to your goal.
Steve Jobs once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Having a purpose, work that you love, will enhance your overall productivity and performance. Research shows that people who enjoy what they do are more likely to be optimistic and motivated, learn faster, make fewer mistakes, and make better business decisions.
2. Adopt a Readiness Mindset
Let’s face it: A positive mindset can be difficult to maintain while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or completing a challenging work assignment. To transform the way you think, you must also transform the way you work. A readiness mindset – composed of continuous learning, a feedback culture, consistent delivery and the acquisition of the necessary resources – allows individuals and teams to deliver sustained personal and corporate results.
Most people believe that readiness is something you only do at the beginning. The truth is that it is something you do continuously until your vision has fully materialized. An organization’s mission is a lifelong endeavor, so the readiness mindset must become an integral element of its strategy, outliving the tenure of many leaders and spanning generations.
Only 12 percent of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1955 remain on the list today, and one study reveals that two-thirds of C-suite executives believe that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist by 2030 due to digital disruption. Could lack of a readiness culture be the reason?
Despite months of preparation to climb Kilimanjaro, it’s important to maintain a readiness mindset during the climb. In fact, during an eight-day journey, climbers should spend the first six or seven days on mental preparation for the last day of the climb – the 12 to 14 hours required to reach Uhuru Peak. The key is having a mindset that daily successes stretch and build our physical and mental state to give us strength for the final leg of the journey.
3. Build a Diverse and Accountable Team
To reach the top of Kilimanjaro, climbers need four to six people to assist and support them. In the corporate setting, according to a U.S. News & World Report article, four types of people support the professionals who make it to the top: allies, advocates, mentors and sponsors.
A seasoned Kilimanjaro tour leader nicknamed Mwalimu (“teacher” in Swahili) started his 22-year career working as a porter and now owns a successful tour company. When I asked him how he manages to lead 98 percent of his customers successfully to the summit, he replied that the only way to lead is by example, to become a part of the team, to “disappear” as a leader and to serve. He said, “You cannot order people around at 3 a.m. at 16,000 feet – if that’s your leadership style, you will fail.”
The investment of time and energy required to build a high-performance team pays off; McKinsey research found that executives who work on a high-performance team are five times more productive than executives working on an average one. You may be able to get by with an average team, but when climbing your Kilimanjaro, average won’t do.
Behavioral change expert Peter Bregman puts it well in his Harvard Business Review article on accountability: “Accountability is not simply taking the blame when something goes wrong … [It’s] about delivering on a commitment. It’s responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks. It’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.”
As a “tour leader,” you must embrace the team as a whole and make sure everyone, guest and support crew alike, plays his or her role. Your job is to blend in the crowd and become a part of a bigger cause. They all know you are there, but the example you set is what will guide them to your destination.
Part two of this series will be published next month.