Responsible Leadership: How Hard Should You Push Your People?

(This is the 2nd in a series of blogs about John Race, mountain guide and co-owner of Northwest Mountain School, who recently led two of my nephews and me up Mt. Baker in Washington State.)
If the client’s goal is to summit a mountain, the guide often has to push him, even if the client doesn’t like it. Yet how hard should the guide push?
Assess: Know your people
Starting at the trailhead John begins to quickly evaluate his clients. There are three questions he wants answered: First, how capable are they in terms of fitness and skill. Second, are they aware of their capabilities? (John will often know their capabilities better than they will.) Third, how much discomfort are they willing to tolerate and for how long? Often, that will determine whether they can summit.
Monitor: Stay close to your people
John pays close attention to how his clients are performing over time. He wants to know who is struggling and why. He’ll ask them questions to track their physical and emotional states. He’s gauging if and when he should intervene, and to what extent.
Act: Push the right buttons at the right times
It’s the final push to the summit and it’s steep. The client doesn’t think he can go on. The fatigue and discomfort are simply too much. This is the moment of truth. John pauses and allows everyone to catch their breath. He then sets more immediate goals that the client is likely to buy into. “We can make it up to that ridge.” “You can go for another 20 minutes.” Many times, setting and achieving a series of smaller goals gets the client to the summit.
If he doesn’t push hard enough, the client may not achieve his goal despite having the capability. If he pushes too hard, the client may shut down or meltdown. This is when the assessing and monitoring pays off so John can make the best possible decision.
You’re a leader. Know your people, stay close to them, and be prepared to push them … hard. But not too hard.
Next week: Responsible Leadership: Beware of Goals
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