Let’s talk about leadership lessons for leveling up. It’s been a pretty epic summer here at my house. As I write this, I’m just about a week past achieving a goal I’ve had for the last decade: summiting Mount Rainier in Washington state. I am crazy passionate about mountain climbing and attempted summiting Mount Rainier ten years ago when I was turned back by 12 inches of blinding snow (in July!) at 11,200 feet on the Ingraham Glacier.
This time I made it to the summit, thanks to an amazing team of guides and fellow climbers. It was an incredible experience, which took months of training and planning to achieve. In all those months, in addition to the hours we spend actually climbing, I had plenty of time to think about what I was learning from the experience as well as what had happened in my life and business in the weeks before the climb.
In mid-August, a few weeks before I flew to Seattle, one of the companies I own—eaHELP—was named #131 on the Inc 500 list of America’s fastest-growing companies. This was an incredible honor, and one that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around. I had plenty of time, on those early morning training runs and that long climb up through the ice, to think about what I’d learned in both leading a successful company and achieving one of my biggest personal goals. Here’s what I discovered:
Leadership Lesson 1: Decide from Day One whether or not you will empower and trust the people around you…or not.
My climbing guide, Charlie Wittmack, is an amazing leader who has climbed some of the most epic mountains in the world. I completely trusted his experience and guidance from the start. I never wasted any time second-guessing him or what he was asking me to do. Why would I question him, when the guy has successfully climbed Everest twice, and I haven’t? But I can see how easy it would have been, halfway through a pretty gruelling training program, to wonder what he was thinking. At eaHELP, our entire team is driven by the value that we’re a team, and that together we run to our problems and opportunities. We trust each other, we value each other, and we help each other. Anybody who doesn’t completely buy into that culture manages to orbit out of our organization pretty quickly.
Leadership Lesson 2: Stay humble—even when everyone thinks you are awesome.
Just a few days before we were named in the Inc 500, one of our biggest competitors in the virtual assistant space imploded financially. And when I say “imploded,” I mean big time! Two days later, we were added to a pretty prestigious list for our exceptional financial growth and management. It would have been so easy for me to spend those days patting myself on the back, but I’ve seen that happen enough times to know that, the moment I start doing that, a huge target appears on my own back. Don’t buy your own press. Know that any success you’re experiencing is a result of the efforts of your entire team, not you. Remember that you’re just a steward of any business you serve—your leadership is temporary, and it’s up to you to leave it better than you found it. Serve others more than yourself, because that’s the only path to true and lasting success.
Leadership Lesson 3: Make sure everyone knows why they’re doing what they’re doing.
My entire physical training program was to prepare me for one thing: summiting Mount Rainier (and getting down). When things got dark, scary, windy, hard, and cold on the mountain (seriously—SO. COLD.) we kept our vision clear in our minds—the summit.
The eaHELP team knows that they’re doing everything they’re doing so that our clients can achieve more of the results they want. And everyone who works for the companies of Miles AG can tell you our mission: to glorify God by providing the people and services that ignite a leader’s possibilities and results. We know why we do what we do, and having a rock-solid understanding of our mission keeps everyone inspired when things get tough.
Leadership Lesson 4: Make sure everyone knows how they “win” in their jobs and missions.
A “win” was clear on the mountain: making the top and back down again safely. In the day-to-day of building and running a business, it’s not so clear. As a leader, it’s my job to help my teams see what a “win” looks like in their particular positions and give them the resources they need to get there. I need to keep them connected to the “why” behind what we’re doing, and how their contributions and individual “wins” help us achieve our greater goals collectively.
Leadership Lesson 5: Own your numbers—especially those around growth.
As a leader, you need to have an in-depth understanding of what numbers drive your organization. You shouldn’t be a micro-manager when it comes to how people achieve those numbers (see my previous comments around trust), but you need to know where your business is going and why. Dig deep into the numbers. Get slightly obsessed with them. Scare people with your knowledge of your business metrics. When you have that level of knowledge, you can spot trends that you want to correct or encourage before they have a lasting impact on your business.
You don’t have to be climbing a mountain or leading a company to be constantly learning about leadership. You’re a leader right where you are—in your cubicle, in your living room, in your church, wherever you’re around people and exerting an influence. The best leaders are those who learn from the people and experiences around them at every stage of life, and take those leadership lessons into whatever role they hold in the future…all with the goal to serve others.
What are you learning about leadership today?