Unlocking Leadership Lessons from 13,000 Feet

Over the last two years, Mike and I have taken dozens of leaders through “100X Leadership“. We use a metaphor to talk about preparing ourselves as leaders, and the need to acclimate to higher altitudes.

To bring the metaphor to life, Mike and I had the dream a couple of years ago to make a trek to Base Camp at 17,500 feet in Nepal at the foot of Mt. Everest.

But when it looked like a Base Camp trek wasn’t going to happen, we made plans for high altitude hiking here in the US. The tallest peaks in Colorado are just over 14,000 feet – still in the “high altitude” category – but much more accessible.

This was our new dream and goal.

What’s Your Dream?

Perhaps you had a dream at one time, and it didn’t work out. Or perhaps you fulfilled your dream and didn’t know what to do next. So you stopped dreaming.

Why not come up with a new dream? Just because your original dream didn’t happen doesn’t mean you should stop dreaming. Find a new dream. Keep reaching for some new goal or possibility.

Intentional About Preparation

To prepare ourselves physically, Mike and I began hiking here in North Carolina on a regular basis. We hiked 4-7 miles at a time. We hiked wherever we traveled: the NC mountains, Tulsa, Girona (Spain), Yellowstone Park and the Tetons.

We did our research. We learned that going above 13,000 feet requires real preparation.

So we made a plan. On our trip, we would stay the first night in Denver (5,000 feet). From there, we would drive down to Buena Vista and spend the first 2 days at 7,950 feet.

Each day, we made preparations:

  • The right layers of clothing
  • A map of our routes
  • Plenty of water supplemented with electrolytes
  • Sunscreen, hats, backpacks and proper hiking boots

Each day, we went on hikes that gradually increased in altitude.

  • First hike: 9,000 feet
  • Second hike: 10,240 feet
  • Third hike: 12,132 feet

We were intentional about preparing for each climb and each mountain.

All of those would prepare us for the final hike – a hike to the summit of Mt. Sniktau.

How intentional have you been about your leadership climb?

  • Are you doing research?
  • Are you acquiring the right knowledge, equipment and training?
  • Are you identifying each level that will help you achieve the summit you envision for yourself?

The Most Important Step: The First One!

After all the planning, the most important thing we did was take the first step.

We had to get in the truck, drive to the trailhead — and start walking. That’s exactly what we did our last day in Colorado.

We selected Mt. Sniktau because there was a trail to the summit, and because it was on our way back to the airport. And it would be above 13,000 feet – our highest altitude hike yet.

We parked at the top of the continental divide at Loveland Pass, put on our backpacks, and started the climb.

Parts of the trail were steep and covered with loose rocks. For the last 500 feet in elevation gain, we scrambled over rocks and boulders. Our hearts beat faster and breathing was harder. (There is about 30% less oxygen in the air at this altitude.)

But what a view at the summit!

I could see peaks and mountains for miles and miles. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Without taking the first step, none of these amazing hikes would have happened. I would never have seen the view or had the stories to tell like I now have.

I wouldn’t have experienced the mountain top without taking the first step.

Have you gotten stuck in your journey? Are you immobilized by fear, procrastination or inaction?

Plan to do take one step this week to get moving again toward your dream.

If you need help figuring out what your next step is, email me. I’d love to help you get to climbing again. Ask about our one-day Intensive – designed to reboot your leadership and recharge you in your leadership journey.

Leading Yourself

We have just entered the fourth quarter of 2023. That means 2024 will soon be here.

Do you have a personal plan to finish this year strong? If not, try this:

  1. Write down the one achievement that would make 2023 end on a great note.
  2. Now think of 3 steps you could take to start making the one achievement possible.
  3. Now write the first step you could take this next week or today to start.

Make preparations, and then take the first step!

(Our Altitude program is a great way to invest in yourself to prepare for your own leadership climb. Check it out here.)

Leading Your Team

If you are a supervisor or manager, each person on your team needs to know what their next level of development or achievement should be. Maybe they have a faint idea. Maybe they’ve lost sight of it.

Make an appointment to sit down with each of your team members. In preparation for the meeting, ask them to think about what mountain they are climbing and what they think their next level is. Or have them do the “Leading Yourself” challenge mentioned above.

When you sit down with your each of your team members, have them share what they want to achieve. Listen to them. Then help them make a plan for how they can do it.

Make sure they know what their first step is. Be a great leader, and help them take it!

If your leaders need to prepare to climb higher in 2024, check out our “100X Leadership” program. We combine workshops with coaching (key ingredient) to help your leaders acclimate and climb to new heights in your organization. Now’s the time to budget for staff development for 2024.

Leading Your Organization

At your next senior leadership team meeting, have each leader share what mountain they want to climb in 2024. Ask them what big, impossible goals or dreams do they want to stretch for in 2024.

After taking time to talk through the team’s goals for the organization, use this list to get ready for the climb:

  1. Preparation – what new equipment, resources, or people do we need?
  2. Training — how do we prepare ourselves and our team with new skills (technical and soft skills)?
  3. Mapping — do we know how to get there and what the route will be?
  4. Climbing — what is our starting point? What is the first step we need to take to get momentum?

If you need help facilitating a conversation with your team or your senior leaders, email me to ask about our facilitation services or about using our strategic plan for optimizing your business. We’ve performed hundreds of hours of facilitation and planning that helps teams put together a plan that works.

Last Thoughts

This incredible journey that Mike and I took started with an idea – a dream. We wanted to experience the thrill of summiting a high mountain.

What’s your dream? What do you feel called to accomplish?

Get a picture about the new heights to which you’d like to climb.

Write your dreams and goals out. Take time to understand what your first step will be on the journey. And then take that first step!

I believe that you are one step away from the journey of a lifetime. Let’s make the climb!


Micah Ray


Looking for a way to prepare yourself as a new or developing manager?

Check out our Altitude program. You get access to lots of online sessions with video and exercises, and you can join a coaching group that meets every month. Get ready for the climb!

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Micah Ray

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