The 5 Most Valuable Life Skills I Learned from Leading 57 Groups to The High Himalayas

Most of what I am about to share in the form of life skills from leading groups to the high Himalayas, came at a very high cost. I learned most through trial and error, and only after completing 40 trips with more than 400 people. If a leader in a business learnt at such a rate, the company would definately be bankrupt. If a partner in a relationship took that long to understand the secrets of love, they’d be divorced before the wedding was over.

So please understand, these five life skills are not learnt from books and certainly not through great written texts of wisdom. They came from hard won experience which is definitely the worst, most expensive, and stupidest way to learn. Sadly that was the cost, the reward (always a balance) is I can help you learn some things without the cost of experience and avoid a few of life’s most common and expensive mistakes.

1. The person who can implement plan B the fastest always leads.

Leading is an easy job. Actually it’s the absolute easiest job on earth. There is no easier job in business than leading, telling people what you want, getting it done, taking credit and getting paid. Easy… Until… Until… people are involved, and variables like Covid19 and markets and storms and digital breakdowns and, and, and, and …. Etc.

So, leading treks in the High Himalayas is easy. Know the path, meet people at airport, catch bus, walk, eat, poo, sleep, repeat, then take people to airport and Finish. BUT … plane is late, bus is broken down, food is bad, sleep is impossible, diarrhoea, constipation, avalanche, emotion, motivation, confusion, rain storm, lightning, wind, cold, heat, ankle, knee, headache, altitude, ice, path broken, arguments, depression, homesickness, anti leadership daddy issues, lost property, flights cancelled, fog, romance, and … well you get the point.. variables.

So what I learned about people, leadership and life from this first lesson is that the person who can implement plan B the fastest leads, because they are the most valuable. Predicting the worst, having a plan to cover it, fast, is leadership in the real world. Knowing what could go wrong and having a plan to deal with it, is the key. However, there’s a twist you might not get… the option of retreat is never a plan B. The plan B must be how to go forward on the same trajectory on a different path. That’s real leadership.

2. Stay One Step Ahead

I learnt this the hard way. I know it sounds easy. But it is one of the most powerful insights I’ve learned in my life. Aclimatisation is a process of adaptation to altitude. The higher we go, the more time the body needs to adapt. The symptoms of non adaptation to altitude are life threatening. This correlates perfectly to business. The larger a business gets the more each individual needs to adapt, acclimatise to the new stress and threats, and the symptoms of non adaptation are life threatening: anger, stress, depression, addiction, obesity, reduced working hours, lost motivation and rapid aging to name just a few.

On my first 40 trips to the Himalayas, I’d meet people at the airport, fly up with them, acclimatise with them, and come down. In those 40 trips, I often found myself unable to look after anyone else’s trip because I was facing life threatening altitude sickness myself.

So, I changed things. The last 15 or more trips I flew up to the mountains, acclimatised, and then met those who I was responsible for and took them. In a business language, I wasn’t stressed – I was available. A busy person at work will never be promoted, they’re too busy looking after their own mess, struggles, adaptation and acclimatisation. They are simply operating under the same stress load as those they lead, and therefore they are no longer a leader.

This is not limited to business. It also defines parenting, healing, coaching, supporting a friend and more. If you are operating under the same stresses as those you lead, you are part of the problem and no longer the solution which is, in simple words, what makes you the leader.

3. Love It – Put Your Heart and Soul Into It

The first 20 trips were so much fun. I did them free. I took people to a place that they never dreamed of and I loved and the connection was infectious. Then I made it commercial. I started a trekking adventure business and started charging commercial fees and needing to make up the numbers for a trekking group to make a profit and so began a nightmare. My marketing was so good I attracted people who were not really interested in my leadership, or the mission or vision of my company. So obsessed with making a business, I started acting for profit and not for the love of the Mountains.

It took a few trips with the wrong people to start to drive me toward lost motivation. I started to get lazy, not enthusiastic about the next trip, depressed about what was coming and what I created. My heart went out as my business went up. I started making a profit but not being a prophet. It was one of the least satisfying periods of my life.

What I learned from this was that the reason I do something has to always include “giving” something I love to others. That sounds weird but in Himalayan trekking language, I love the spiritual and emotional depth that comes when you touch your soul in the mountains of the Himalayas. When I forgot why I was doing those treks, and started focussing on how to build a business out of it, I lost the fuel to do it. Putting my heart and soul into what I do comes first, commercialising it comes second. And that goes for everything. In fact, it’s what I spend my life sharing for others because that’s what I love to give.

4. Lead from Behind

On a beautiful Himalayan day, my clients, all four were entrepreneurs and mates, sat at our little Himalayan cafe waiting to start their 10 day adventure into the mountains. Guides, porters, my trek manager, Dawa a local Sherpa and we were ready. These four guys were fascinating self made millionaires and this year, as they’d done every year for the past 10 or so, they were on a two week jaunt somewhere in the world. This year, it was Mt Everest base camp and I was their leader.

They were intrigued by the route map, the lodge location, the danger points, the schedule and more. They wanted to know everything, questions, What, when, how, when, where, why… and more. Within a few days they knew as much about the trip as I did. And this is the mark of a great leader. They didn’t want to be led. My role, as the leader was taken away by the simple transference of knowledge. and their awareness that Dawa, my Sherpa manager, could pretty much cover all their needs for the trip. I had made myself redundant.

I remember clearly being tempted to change the route, or to add a variable to destabilise them and bring my role back into focus but I hesitated and realised that leadership, really great leadership isn’t about being needed. Nor is it about being in control. Actually, it’s about empowering others. My guilt for not doing anything merged with my boredom at having nothing to contribute. I got restless, I couldn’t sleep, I ate more than I needed and shared one too many local wines with friends.

Each day, they left on the trek at their agreed time (amongst themselves) and I followed. I had no job. I felt useless. But they knew this much: they knew that if anything really really bad happened, I was the only one with the wisdom and experience to make an educated decision about it. I led from behind and for the first time in my 40 treks and 50 years of life, understood the power of not being powerful. It’s a great awakening.

5. Hard work, is bad management. The Person at the Top of the mountain didn’t fall there

Getting fit and getting ready for something are two very different things. You can’t train for blisters, or lost enthusiasm, or cramps, or feeling exhausted. What separates people on a mountain walk, what we learn on a mountain walk, is that, at the end of the day, it is mind over matter.

One of the fittest and fastest athletes in the world failed on one of my walks. They defined the trek as running a marathon a day for 10 days. And it is. But it’s not physical. Actually, if you take one step at a time and simply relax up the long hills, you make it refreshed. But very few people know how to live like this.

Everybody dies – everyone – but not everybody lives. The appetite to feel superior, powerful, enthusiastic, high, on top, in control, will never get a person to the top of a mountain nor to the top in life. I saw so many people applying their motivational techniques that might, in the variance of life in the city seem to work for them, but fail in the Mountains. Good intentioned people repeating the same daily mistakes from their city life that held them back for a lifetime but coming to a grinding halt on a mountain walk.

What holds us back in life is self-determined thinking process that use muscle or emotion to achieve an outcome. We either drive hard thinking this is a “best way” or we surrender to weakness because it “attracts help.” Neither is clean and wastes a life. Hard work, is bad management.

Mental strength is a package. It is not just goals and determination, nor hard headed determination, although these things can sometimes be of value. Moreover, mental strength is a package of things that come together to add diverse resources of the human condition to engineer our way through a challenge.

Mental Strentgth can be learned

  1. There are seven areas of life and therefore seven areas of strength that can build to a single effort.
  2. A vision long term is essential
  3. Goals short term help
  4. The ability to spin a good story from a bad situation
  5. No regret (no wishing to go back in the past and do something different)
  6. Turning up – the ability to enjoy doing just one thing, right now.
  7. Self talk – Where most people go wrong by emulating the wrong voices.

The Innerwealth Mental Strength Training program is a part of Life Coaching Masterclasses. If you would love to learn, please start with the free course on the home page of Also, please share this post.. it might help someone save a few years of their life for better things than stress, worry and hurt.


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