“We made it! Are you ready? I can’t believe we’re actually here. Can you believe we’re actually here?
Are you as scared as I am? What if we don’t make it?”
I’m standing at the base of a mountain with my friend Karen, about to embark on a 7-day trek. Beside us there's a sign that reads:
It doesn’t take us long to realize...we have no idea what we're doing.
Fortunately, Owen does! Owen is our guide and he’s got 40 years of mountain climbing stories written in the lines on his face. Owen speaks Swahili. And about 5 minutes into our 7-day climb, he teaches us one word that we will repeat about a thousand times over the coming days:
Now, I must confess, word slowly is not even really in my English vocabulary! There are a couple things I do slowly in life...drinking a cup of tea or maybe...or backing out of the garage if the kids are in the driveway. But mostly, I’m a race the cart up and down the aisles kinda girl!!
So when Owen says Pole Pole 5 minutes in to a 7 day climb, I’m a little....restless! The climb is easy right now! It’s not really even a climb, it’s just a little slope and the elevation is...well...nothing?!
But here’s Owen...
He is so...ridiculously....slow. All the other groups on the mountain are racing past us and I think to myself;
“I cannot do this for 7 days! Never mind the altitude sickness, I am going to die of meandering!"
But…it is not up to me...so pole, pole, we plod along.
We plod, because this is Owen’s climb.
Day 5 we get to camp and we see what we’ve come here to conquer. “Time to sleep.” Owen says. “3am we wake, for finish.” In the middle of the night he shakes our tent to wake us.
I can’t eat. I (gasp) can’t even talk (gasp) without gasping for (gasp) air. The altitude (gasp) is winning this battle before (gasp) I take even one (ridiculously slow...gasp) step.
“Uhhhh. I can’t, Karen. I can’t. My head is going to explode! My stomach is…I can’t. I gotta go down."
And as I’m sitting there in the snow, willing myself to continue...
(you are not a quitter. 3 more hours, you can do this...)
Owen grabs me under the arms, looks me in the eyes and says
And so we left, right, left, right.
We walk at the exact same pace as we had for four days. What felt slow on day one, suddenly feels precisely, right.
And then...without....really any warning, we arrive. We round a corner and we're there, standing on top of the world watching the sun rise. A completely ordinary, everyday experience, taking place in more magnificent way than we could ever have imagined.
You know, I think we all need an Owen?
An Owen who can get us where we want to be. An Owen who can take good care of us along the way. An Owen who guides us along, slowly, patiently, methodically.
Owen was an exceptional guide, because he did three things.
1) He got us where we wanted to be – he got results.
2) He took good care of us along the way – he nurtured us.
3) Owen...he thought long about his work, and about his life.
This was not a job, for Owen, this was a calling.
I know this because I watched him (for 7 days of nothing but left, right, left, right...). I watch Owen help other guides. I watch him serve the Sherpa who wants to become a guide. I hear him remind us about the fact that every day, we are doing something we didn’t think we could do - using potential we didn’t think we had.
Own thought long, not fast.
Owen pursued a legacy. And because of that…Owen will leave behind him along line of people who did things they didn’t know they could do, simply because he showed up.
That’s a legacy I’d like to leave behind. What about you?
Exceptional Managers – it’s not about who you are. It’s about how you choose to show up.
Regardless of who you are when the enter this job, what you become is about what you decide.
You can learn to get results.
You can learn to nurture others.
You can learn to think long; to pursue a legacy.
This is what exceptional Managers DO.
Was Owen born knowing how to get people to the summit, without dying?
Of course not! Is it possible Owen was born with some enormous natural lung capacity, or high oxygen levels that enabled him to master it more easily? Sure. But the main reason Owen could thrive through my weaknesses, is because he learned what worked and what didn’t. He learned the best route to take. He learned about the strategies for altitude sickness. He learned how to climb.
Someone taught him. And then he practiced.
You do not have to be within an elite 10% of people who are naturally motivational, naturally assertive, naturally trustworthy (a tip of my hat to this HBR article). Just like Owen didn't need to be born with exceptionally high oxygen levels, blessed with the best DNA, in order to get results, nurture others and pursue a legacy.
You just have to decide.
Now CEOs reading along, listen up. Listen up because there's one other thing about Owen I don’t want you to miss:
Owen didn’t wait until we needed to walk slowly, before he made us walk slowly. He took what he knew about Day 4 and prepared us for it on Day 1.
Managers, how are you using today, to prepare for where you might be one day?
CEOs, how are you using what you know about one day, to prepare your Managers today?
Because we all need an Owen in our lives.
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