Learn to Climb the Corporate Ladder by Climbing a Mountain

When we’re done, we always hit this great brew pub for burgers and beer. If you cut the burger in half you still need need two hands. It’s the perfect complement to their amber ale.

Why did we do it? Weren’t you listening when I described the burger?

Oh, the mountain. Why did we climb it in winter? During a storm you wouldn’t drive in? There are a lot of reasons. There’s the scenery, the conflict of man vs. nature and a really good beer. But I see the “Yeah, right” in your eyes. So I’m going to explain it this way.

These adventures develop corporate skills. That’s right. I learn more useful skills running around mountains and paddling the bay than you will in a lifetime of seminars and Dale Carnegie courses.

There’s the networking

Believe it or not, getting back to nature is a very social activity. It’s usually done in groups. Sure you can do the lone wolf thing. But there is safety in numbers. Sometimes you need someone else to rescue your lost self or apply some first aid.

Like I say, it’s a social activity. And it brings together people with varied interests, backgrounds and professions. Your adventures are chances to mix with people and tell them about what you do.

I’m not advocating that you treat fellow hikers as prospects. The best networkers will tell you that’s not the way to do it. You network to meet people. Maybe some day they will buy from you or promote you. Better yet, they may become friends. But the goal is to learn and share what you know.

But the trail isn’t always a great place to talk it up. Sometimes you want to hear the sounds of nature – not some tales from the cubicle. Knowing when to shut up is a skill that will work well for you throughout your career.

Don’t worry. There will be lots of opportunities to network. There’s nothing like a burger and beer after a day trip.

Then you’re challenging yourself

You’re never going to grow unless you step outside of your comfort zone. You’re going to learn a lot about what you can do. It’s not hard to find adventures outside that comfort zone – literally and figuratively.

It’s more than taking risks or facing fear. It’s about doing something that is unknown and new. There also are skills to learn. Climbing is something that takes practice. The more you paddle canoes and kayaks in rough waters, the better you get. Some trips require endurance that needs to be built up.

Each step you take into new territory builds something inside of you. It’s called confidence. And that’s going to get you places at work. It’s something coworkers, supervisors, customers and clients will notice. And in the proper dosage, they will respect you for it.

These are two vital steps in getting what you want. The first is to believe you can do it. And why not? You have reached the summits of mountains. Promotion should be a cake walk.

That leads to the second step. Making others believe you can do it too. Especially if your goals involve leadership.

If you’re going to be a leader…

Now we come to the most tangible benefit of group adventure. It is a fantastic leadership training exercise.

Here’s the deal with most people. They want someone to lead them. All it takes to qualify is to declare you have an idea and plan the adventure. Just like that, you’re a leader.

But are you a good leader? That’s another question that is not going to be answered unless you try it. And outdoor leadership really is not that different from corporate leadership.

The most important skills you need to lead an adventure are planning and communication.

Planning requires figuring out the where and what obviously. What mountain are you going to climb? What lake are you going to paddle? What trail are you going to hike? You need to know miles covered and supplies needed.

You need to assess how challenging is the trip and the skill levels of your fellow adventurers. That requires careful recruitment or discouragement of participants. The adventure and people are a careful match. You want people who can do it. But remember they may be challenging themselves, stepping out of their comfort zones. Allowing them to do that without compromising the safety of others or the goals of the trip is tough. It’s leadership.

It’s also accepting that all planning isn’t perfect. Things go wrong. Good leaders have good plan Bs then. Or at least they look like they do. A little bit of confidence goes a long way here.

Even more difficult than the planning though is the communication. Good leaders are excellent communicators. The people you lead need to understand what is expected. You need to make sure you use language they are familiar with. This is especially true when you lead new adventurers. Often they don’t have the opportunity to learn a new vocabulary. Or they don’t have the same frame of reference as the person giving instructions.

Throw in the fact that people tend to spread out and get easily distracted by what is going on around them. You need to develop excellent communication skills to keep everyone safe and on mission.

Being able to give feedback helps tremendously. Especially when they are trying to grow beyond their comfort zones too.

What are you doing this weekend?

Let’s not forget that I’m getting exercise. And it’s a good way to relieve the stress that builds up here during the week. It’s all making me a healthier individual. Which in turn leads to greater productivity.

All this helps me be a valuable member of the team here. You have that option too. There are outdoor clubs and organizations that offer opportunities to get out and lead. They aren’t hard to find on the Internet. It’s not too late to start.

Even if you don’t leverage it into a promotion here, you’re going to be happier.

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Cubicle Curtis is the guy sitting at the next workstation. He's been in this office longer than anyone else, so he's a valuable resource of who does what and how to get things done. Before this job, he has worked just about every job between pizza delivery and accounting. Now, he's all about getting the job done and helping you figure out how to survive yours.


  1. Shane Mac on the 14th February

    Great post, especially the line about being happy…

    Here are my thoughts,
    The ladder is a lot of an image that is created and more times than not makes people feel like they are not getting anywhere because they are not climbing up it. It is about realigning our expectations, realizing that the ladder is actually just a false belief that there is a top. Realize that the ladder only leads to the base of another ladder. Should you strive to climb it? Always strive to more but just change how you see it.

    Here is how I did it and somehow found a voice with Executives.
    1. Live outside your job title. It is so easy to always focus on the task at hand. Sure, you need to get it done, but how can you help other departments? We are all new to this game of life and work and we can all benefit from each other.

    2. Say Hi. It is so easy to forget that if people don’t know you, know what you do, and like you, then how can they promote you? Everyday, walk by a person who you can benefit from knowing and can help you get to the next step and just say hi. You will be surprised how far that goes…

    For more tips and ideas on kicking your career’s a**, I write on http://thesquab.com and speak at colleges regularly.

    I hope the ladder dies and we start working together and realizing that we can all learn from those who are willing to teach. That is the new model of business. That is the new model of life. We spend half of our awake life working, remember that.

    Shane Mac

    • Jiew Meng on the 16th February

      @Shane Mac:

      nicely said

      +1 for “hope the ladder dies and we start working together and realizing that we can all learn from those who are willing to teach”

  2. Shane Mac on the 16th February

    Would love to interview you sometime… Reach out.

  3. Paul Letourneau on the 17th February

    Great article!

    It’s a long climb to the top and “Knowing when to shut up is a skill that will work well for you throughout your career.” is essential.


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