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Five Reasons Your Leadership Coach Should Be a Mountain Guide

Knight Campbell
January 17, 2024

Great guides are great coaches

As you huddle in the fog, your mountain guide is your leadership coach. A good guide will take the following five actions to help you succeed: bring clarity, facilitate good decisions, balance challenge and support, provide calm in adversity, and offer tools to move you forward.

1. Leaders need help finding clarity

Coaching is all about asking good questions to help a client find meaning. The right questions lead to the right answers. Often leaders know what they want to do and what they need to do, but get caught up in all the daily firefighting that it remains unclear. A few curious questions usually uncover clarity that was already there. Much like a guide might steer away from unseen cliffs or find cairns that mark the climber’s trail, coaches employ curious, direct questions to partner with clients in finding the solutions that uniquely work in their situation. Imagine the joy your group feels moving through the clouds revealing the path you intend to take through crisp clean mountain air!

2. Leadership coaches help you make great decisions

Some of the best coaching I have received was as simple as asking what a particular decision looks like. “Tell me more.” Verbalizing the expected consequences to another human made my path suddenly clear. Leaders constantly make decisions. They must navigate the unknown and usually accept responsibility for the consequences (good or bad). Having a partner in a coach to cut through the indecision and extraneous data allows confidence and serenity in decision-making. Just as a guide helps a client decide on a path, whether to push on or not, when to take a break, and when to accept objective hazards such as avalanches or rock fall, a coach becomes immensely helpful in navigating choices as a leader.

3. Guides and coaches balance challenge and support

Twelve hours into a twenty-six-hour climb, I am often unsure why I am in the mountains. I struggle to remember to cherish the journey and that the summit will be amazing. Guides must balance challenging clients to reach a successful summit and realistically turning around when conditions are not right or downright unsafe. Guides belay and set up safety systems to keep clients alive, and at the same time push clients to go far beyond comfort zones. Great coaches push leaders to attain far more success than they imagined, while simultaneously offering support and assisting clients to find meaningful support elsewhere in their lives when it’s needed.

4. Build a sense of calm in adversity

When an avalanche rockets down near a climbing group or a rock narrowly misses a rope team, guides exude calm. A guide who loses his or her cool in dangerous situations will inevitably cause clients to do the same. Leaders face stress and dangers daily, and people take their emotional cues from the leader. Having a coach to help center, focus and maintain presence under stress allows a leader to face challenges with poise and facilitate high-performing teams under pressure. Coaches constantly train in and learn new ways to calm the mind and promote equanimity. Like a guide managing emergency situations, a leadership coach helps you be your best under pressure.

5. Leadership coaches should give you new tools

Coaches rarely give unsolicited advice. We believe clients are amazing in their capacity to solve their problems, and we support them to find and own the solution that works best. That being said we study leadership and observe countless other leaders work through similar problems. Many of us have a great deal of personal experience leading and we know systems, theories, and methods that have been tried and found true. Like a good guide who applies the right belay system to surmount a frozen waterfall, we can offer insights and thoughts to help leaders reach success. When you simply don’t have the answer or when you need something concrete to ground your progress, ask your coach for a hand!

The best of the coaching and guiding worlds

People hire mountain guides to make dangerous, even impossible climbs a possibility and to make otherwise miserable summit attempts approachable, safe, and fun. Leaders seek coaches to do much the same thing. Of course, leaders are capable; coaches assume they have the answers after all. Still, when a climber seeks to climb a big mountain, he or she has a choice. Climbers can spend a decade learning skills, systems, and the mindset to attain their goal, or they can ask a guide to help them along the way over a long weekend. Great leaders will inevitably figure out how to attain success, and a relationship with a great coach makes that journey to success faster, more fun, and more fruitful.

Questions? We'd love to hear from you! 

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