Entrepreneurial Lessons from a Mountain Climber: What Kind of Mountain are YOU Climbing?


I have a friend who is a mountain climber. He climbs big mountains…very big mountains. His name is Mark Carr and he is a successful businessman, Human Resources expert, adventurer, wilderness guide and a climber of very big mountains. He has challenged mountains worldwide, like Mount Everest; Kilimanjaro; The Eiger; The Matterhorn, The Grand Teton, Mt. McKinley and many others. When you talk with Mark, you’ll soon learn that mountaineering is more than the expected physical challenge, it’s also a very serious mental and strategic challenge as well.

Mark said, “Big mountain expeditions (like Everest) are a true test of patience and logistics. A typical expedition requires incredible planning involving tons of gear. Imagine feeding up to thirty people three meals a day for six weeks all above 20,000 feet!”  This commentary began a lengthy conversation about the relationships between Mountaineering and business.

We soon began to link some very interesting comparisons between building and growing a business as an entrepreneur and climbing big mountains. I’ve compiled a few of Mark Carr’s thoughts on the mountain climbing and business connection.

On the MINDSET of Success:

Just as in business, success or failure might begin and end with your mindset. Mark said, “I was climbing on one occasion and my right foot slipped causing me to swing across the vertical rock wall at 20,000 feet. Smooth rock above, death below. As I settled against the rock wall, I looked up and then down and began asking myself very key questions. Questions like, Am I hurt or just hurting? Should I turn back or should I quit? Is this situation impossible or just really, really hard? These are the ultimate questions that I use during climbs to keep my mindset and focus to make key decisions and accurately evaluate if I should turn back or keep going!”

On Failure:

Mark makes a powerful point key to mountaineering and business survival when we discussed the importance of learning from failure rather than suffering from failure. “We don’t value failure enough in our culture,” he said. “Failure can be an incredible experience. A lack of “failure tolerance” really stifles people and prevents them from taking the necessary risks. It stifles progress and innovation.” He went on to say, “I did not make it to the summit of Mt. Everest. I had to turn around less than a quarter of a mile and 1500 feet from the summit. I felt like a failure but I also understood that it had to be done. If you’re smart you will learn far more from your defeats than you will from your victories.”

Learning from failure and learning to not be afraid of it is a great tool. Understanding the value of Fear is another great tool. Both keep you focused, awake, alert and ready for anything. Complacency in business or mountain climbing will absolutely do you in!

On Leadership: Part 1:

“As a leader you can never expect the people on your team to be willing to endure anything that you are not willing to endure. As a climbing leader I have to tell myself that, yes, it is painful and it is difficult and uncomfortable. However I know that I have to suck it up and get out there and do what it is I am supposed to do in successfully leading my team and setting an example. Leadership is all about feeling like everyone has skin in the game. You want to know that your leader has a sense of shared risk. It builds trust and loyalty among teams when your leadership has as much skin in the game as the rest of your team.”

On Leadership: Part 2:

“You will have people who are not as strong as other members of your team. As leaders, if you can help these people find a way to contribute where they feel valuable, you will often get more out of them than you would have if their skills had been on a par with everyone else’s skills at the beginning. As a leader on a climbing expedition, it is imperative that you understand your team member’s limitations. The “Peter principle” is alive and well in the mountains and the impact of people not being aware or ignoring their limitations can be catastrophic and deadly. I believe that self awareness is the single most important factor in successfully climbing a mountain or successfully climbing the corporate ladder.”

On Understanding your WHY! :

The meaning of climbing a mountain is in what you bring down with you from the experience on the mountain. This is what counts. If you climb simply for bragging rights, just to say you can do it, then that is meaningless. It is not just about standing on top at the summit. If you can do it in a way where you are learning and building your leadership skills, helping other people learn, and learning from other people, than that is worthwhile.”


On Meetings:

“Climbs involve many, many meetings. The meetings are short and to the point, and need to be very effective, the leader is clear and the agenda is obvious: Who, what, when, where, and how. For climbers that means objectives, departure times, route and equipment. Everyone listens; everyone participates, because one missed detail could cost you your life.” He goes on to say, “Business meeting should be similar; a clear agenda, defined results, and positive dynamics. The best meetings are the ones where everyone is involved and where the meeting is kept short.”

Mark Carr’s comments sound a lot like many of the same issues that entrepreneurs face when starting and building a business. It’s not easy. We have to make hard decisions. We must have the discipline; the guts and the heart to keep at it, make the necessary adjustments and then get after it again. Or, we must understand when to walk away through honest, ego free strategic evaluation. If you’re climbing Mount Everest or building a business, without the proper planning and thought the consequences are equally harsh. In climbing you could fall to your death and maybe take others with you; in business you could also lose everything and hurt others around you if you don’t have the plan; the discipline and the faith to make it work.

We were finishing up our conversation and Mark closed with a very powerful statement. He said, “Experience alone cannot make up for proper planning; thoughtful risk assessment, and overall preparedness. I have seen very experienced people perish in the mountains because they were over confident in these three areas.”

Business, today, is absolutely no different. It’s a learning experience every day, so if you’re on the mountain or in the boardroom you had better be prepared for anything. If you should need some help with growing your business and getting prepared please feel free to call or write me. This is what we do at Grow Southwest and we’re open for business.


Coach Dan



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