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Tanzania: Leadership Lessons Learnt From Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

THRILL. Adrenalin rush. Acclimatization. Conquest. There are many adjectives that the ‘wizards of adventure’ have used to describe the arduous but delightful escapade of summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro.

This is because the experience means different things to many who have attempted the great ascent, many of them painfully making it to the summit, others sadly failing in their dream adventure pursuit.

The allure and the magnetic charm to scale Africa’s tallest mountain, the world’s tallest stand-alone peak, entice you when you espy the picturesque Uhuru peak as it hovers above the imposing mountain with all its majestyand then when you finally reach Marangu, the climbing start point, there is a feeling of pre-achievement (or is it fear of failure element?)-and lo and behold, you have started the great climb unto your destiny!

And so it was that just over a year ago I took on this adventure. When I come to think of it, the most lingering question that my colleagues and friends, often ask me is: “Was it worth it?” I am tempted to dismiss them with a shrug, but then I take a deep breath and allow some time to spare a thought for them and soliloquize: ‘Man, how I wish I could share all my thoughts’ today though I will focus on the leadership lessons I learnt.

Preparation is key The highly overlooked yet most important factor. The hard realization, 20 minutes into the start of your sixday journey, that you did not prepare enough is most disheartening. Thoughts of all the opportunities you had to go out on that jog, or that long walk, but did not, haunt you.

You are suddenly alone in your feelings. The rest of your team, most of whom went through the physical preparation required for the task at hand, are going on like they do this every day. You get the same feeling in leadership.

Being thrust into a leadership position with inadequate training and experience can be a most daunting affair. Your team looks up to you for guidance and you have none to give. Watch out therefore, for you may get what you ask for. Ensure you are ready to lead before you ask for that position.

Build a trusted support structure Your guide and his team of support staff, the cooks, porters and the like, are the lifeline of the climb. Without them you will lose your way and perish. You will not make it one hundred metres past Marangu without them. Your life on the mountain depends on them.

The porter is the most important individual in the support team, yet the one that is most easily dismissed. He operates where you don’t see. Carrying your burden of essentials for you way ahead of you, and ensuring that they are well laid out for your use when you finally get to the camp at the end of each day.

There are two leadership lessons here. Firstly, you never win alone. Your team is the single most important unit of your leadership. Without them there is no one to lead, and without their trust in you, you may as well go home. Ensure you win them over to the point that they are happy to deliver for you. You win together.

Secondly, value each team member equally. It is easy to under look the contribution of your lowest team member, not realizing that they carry your heaviest burden. Train your inner voice There will be many hours during the climb when you are alone and accompanied by no one but your thoughts.


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At times like this you get strength from the strength of your thoughts. If your thoughts are negative and ask you to quit, you will. I witnessed the weakest among my fellow climbers make it to the top by sheer will power, and spoke to evidently strong climbers who regretted that they turned around because their ‘mind’ instructed them to.

We are all as strong as our will allows. Our will is our strongest, yet weakest link. Your will is your inner voice. Train it to think positively all the time. Train it to want to win, and you will. Celebrate small wins The journey is long. Six days in total, with four days of ascent and two days of descent.

The hardest of those days is the summit night, when you make the final assault to Stella point, your first peak, and finally to Uhuru, the ultimate goal. From the start of the climb at Marangu the ascent is broken into several stages marked by camps namely Mandara, Orombo and Kibo before the push for the summit begins.

At each stage we stopped to rest, take in the altitude and most of all celebrate. Similarly, the leadership journey is spotted with stages. Each stage must be celebrated together with the team. It is by taking the time to celebrate the leadership milestones that you enjoy the leadership journey and, most importantly, improve your chances of success.

Your team looks up to you for encouragement as they engage in their day to day tasks. Celebrate with them each step of the journey. That makes it easier for them to climb with you to the top. When at last you think you have reached the end, think again Getting to Uhuru peak, the highest point was arduous!

You have summited eight hours through the night to the first peak, Stella point, only to be told that Uhuru is two hours away. You gather the strength to make the last leg. Finally, four days since you left Marangu camp, you get to Uhuru peak. You have conquered. A tiring journey at its end.

The top is what you aimed for and the top you have achieved. It is finally over! But, is it really? I thought it was until I realized that I had another two days of trekking ahead of me, downhill this time, before I got back to Marangu.

And then it hit me, the journey was not yet over! Similarly, you never really get to the top of your leadership journey for you are always learning. Even when you get to the peak of your career, there is always still another peak to summit.

And even when you do get to that final summit, you still are not done yet because it is at that point that you get into the ‘give back’ phase.

This, equivalent to the two days of descent, is when you impart your leadership wisdom to the next generation. In short, ‘it’s not over till it’s over’! *The writer is the Managing Director of Serengeti Breweries Limited, Tanzania.