Leadership Development Expeditions

Pursuing Difficult Objectives

Leadership Development Mount Baker Climb

A Program Developed and text written by Neil McCarthy of McCarthy Consulting Group www.mccarthyconsulting.net: All questions should be direct to Neil McCarthy:

Mount Baker Climb Itinerary
Mt. Baker is unique with respect to its great mass of snow and ice and its easy accessibility.  It requires less than one day of hiking to reach the glaciers.  The climbing route ascends via some of the largest and most scenic glaciers in the contiguous US.  While the climbing is strenuous, physically active individuals typically find it exhilarating.

Course Objectives

  • Develop self-aware individuals who lead with confidence.
  • Self awareness and self management abilities
  • Interpersonal and group dynamics evaluation and intervention
  • Performance evaluation and feedback
  • Increasing knowledge/skills of snow and alpine climbing including:
    • Roped Travel
    • Glacier Route finding
    • Self arrest
    • Crampon use

Pre-expedition Preparation:
A few weeks prior to the course we will schedule a conference call with each participant to discuss their leadership development objectives.  Each participant will be asked to provide examples from their organizational experience that illustrate their leadership strengths and challenges.   During the expedition, we will use the examples you share with us to help connect your objectives to specific learning and development opportunities.    

Day before Climb 3:00 to 6:00 pm  (Mandatory Gear Check):  Our first meeting is intended to prepare us for our two objectives:  successfully complete our mountaineering route and learn as much as we can about leadership that the mountains have to teach us over the next 3 days.  In addition to the basics of getting to know one another, checking equipment, and examine the climbing route, we will discuss the critical importance that an inspiring vision and mission has on the success of any organization.  Moving from theory to action we will examine the skills and behaviors leaders must develop to meet this need, especially the importance of balancing and incorporating individual goals with group goals. 

Because decision making is often a key element of leadership, we will present a model for decision making at this first meeting.  Our intention is to practice and test this model throughout the expedition.  Immediately following the discussion, we will have our first opportunity to test the model.   The expedition members will have to make some decisions about the resources’ we will carry in our packs which will directly determine the objectives, style, and approach of our 5 days in the mountains.  And finally, because leaders must be constantly seeking to learn more about their environment and to understand their impact on their organization, we will begin a debrief and feedback process  intended to draw out key learning’s from the day and give each participant insight into how they impacted the experience. 
Location: Alpine Ascents Seattle office.

Day 1: 7:00am meeting at Schrieber’s Meadow, south side of Mt. Baker. Most of the day is spent on the moderately strenuous approach, as we hike from 3,400’ in subalpine meadows. Climbing continues through forest, high alpine meadows and seasonal snow covered regions to high camp, spectacularly situated beneath the Easton glacier, just under 7,000’. Views from this elevation are both expansive and stunning.

As a leader it is important to create vivid images of the future, short term goals that are demanding enough to create momentum but attainable enough to inspire confidence.  We will be trying to strike that balance as we ascend into the alpine and get our first glimpse of the terrain we need to traverse to reach our first camp.  With the heavy packs on unfamiliar terrain, this experience can be stressful.  We encounter a very similar experience in our consulting work with leaders and teams when quick response to organizational demands is required.  We will examine the importance of recognizing the effects of stress on oneself and the group and discuss strategies to manage the impacts. 

Our ability to negotiate the days challenges will determine how far we can travel and may determine the comfort and the quality of our camp.  Negotiating the balancing between necessity and comfort and its effects on morale is a constant challenge for leaders trying to create the future. After establishing camp, we will continue the debrief and feedback process and evaluate how well we did on our first day in the mountains.

Day 2: Snow skills and moving camp.   We cover basic snow skills, proper stepkicking, use of ice axe, self-arrest, walking/climbing in crampons and rope techniques for our heavily crevassed glacier climb.   We expect the intersection of personal motivation, interpersonal communication, and team goals to challenge us today.  We will be faced with a decision to move camp higher on the mountain and camp on the glacier or spend more time on skill development and have a longer summit climb.  Leadership discussion related to this experience will be the benefits making fast progress for organization initiatives, the risks of spending energy (resources) and being more exposed, and how individuals respond to conflict both intra-personally and interpersonally.

We continue the debrief and feedback process, discuss the leadership challenges of leading groups of diverse interests and skill levels, and prepare for our next objective.

Day 3:
Summit day. To ensure safety and optimum traveling conditions, we begin the climb early to reach the summit by dawn. Our route takes us to approx. 9,800’ where we reach the crater rim and look deep into the steaming center of Mt. Baker. After a brief rest we head up along the crater rim to the summit. At a moderate pace, the summit climb should take 5-8hrs. You will need to apply all of the skills you have learned on the previous days and continue to learn more while we make our summit attempt.  It is not uncommon that final steps in route to our goals are some of the most difficult.  Our objectives are in sight and what would be a relatively small obstacle at lower elevations suddenly takes all of our inner strength to overcome. 

If we are fortunate to reach the summit with clear weather, we should be rewarded with a spectacular view and a few moments to let it soak in.  Two things naturally occur to leaders when they reach a summit.  First, they can now see many other summits to pursue.  Second, they realize there is still a long way to go before completing the expedition.   It is a one of the most difficult tasks of leadership to remain focused and influence others to remain focused after the brass bands and fireworks of initial success has ended.

Post expedition:
Follow up is a critical component of the learning experience.  You will receive 1 coaching sessions over the following month to help you connect your expedition experience to the unique leadership opportunities or challenges you are facing.  We will discuss specific behaviors and strategies to support application of what you learned in the mountains.

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