I’ve been lucky enough to gain a place on the Management Development Experience (MDE) at adidas and, as part of it, we were all challenged to find something new we wanted to learn and since I had always wanted to try rock climbing, I set that as my goal. Climbing is scary, challenging, strategic, and physically demanding, but I’ve taken away a lot of food for thought that I’ve been able to apply to my career.

What's the worst that can happen?

As soon as I had signed up, I thought to myself, ‘how hard could it be?’ Then I saw the climbers and how far from the ground they were, leading me to wonder what would happen if I lost my grip, fell to the ground and seriously injured myself?

Ok, get a grip, Laura. What’s the worst that could happen?

Through MDE, I determined that fear was the one thing that was stopping me from getting out of my comfort zone. I needed to understand what it was that was stopping me. Rationalize and accept that with all the safety checks, the intricate rope system and a trusty belay partner you’ll not be falling very far.

Close-up on a woman's hands adjusting the carabiner of her climbing gear. challenge, overcoming fears, self-reflection, confidence, leadership skills, GamePlan A
Overcome your fears and take a leap of faith.

Trust and communication

Your belay partner is the one person who ensures you get yourself safely to the top and all the way back down again in one piece. You have to trust them.

As a climber, you have to communicate with them. You have to clearly share your intentions – where you’re moving to and what you’ll be doing next. How fast or slow you want to be going. Your safety is really in their hands. The clearer the understanding between both parties, the more likely it is you’ll succeed. This actually goes for pretty much everything. Clear intentions = clear results.

Strategize: Thinking your way to the top

Very early on it became obvious that strategy and planning is key to a successful climb. Could I make that stretch? If I made that stretch, could I reach the next cliff to hang onto? At times I would get stuck, then I would get tired from hanging onto the cliff and had to get back down.

It was a little discouraging at first, because I wanted to reach the top. I couldn’t figure out what areas I needed to reach, where my hands and feet should be. Getting the hang of it did not happen quickly.

Two climbing partners look up to an indoor climbing wall and discussing the climbing route. challenge, overcoming fears, self-reflection, self-improvement, trust, leadership skills, GamePlan A
Strategize: Planning your route is key to your success.

I got myself back down, took a step back and looked at the rock. I analyzed what had happened the first time. Why couldn’t I go further? Thinking and analyzing is one thing, but having the confidence to push myself to reach and stretch further was another. If you’re serious about succeeding in something new, the two things go hand-in-hand.

It’s also important to learn from others, so I asked my partner what I could have done better and watched how others tackled the climb. Only after doing all of these things did I finally get to the top.

At work I could translate this into challenges and obstacles I come across – if there is something I can’t figure out, take a step back and look at the bigger picture and ask for an outside perspective.

Taking it step-by-step

I learned in steps – from safely tying a rope to my harness, to communicating with my belay and the different approaches and routes you can take to get to the top of that rock.

A woman climbing up an indoor climbing wall. challenge, overcoming fears, self-reflection, self-improvement, leadership skills, GamePlan A
Tackling your challenges step-by-step will help you to achieve your ultimate goal.

You can’t just give someone the equipment and expect them to go climb. Just like at work, I can’t expect my team to deliver on something unless I give them the proper tools to succeed. I am there for my team – to belay them and help manage the rope to get them to the top, but, as with any climber, it’s important they know I can be trusted to catch them if they fall.

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by Eva G. 23.11.2018
I love climbing, but never thought of it this way and how you connected what you've learnt and experienced through this challenge to the work life. Sounds like also your team will be benefiting from this adventure you took. Kudos to you for having the courage! And hey, don't stop climbing, it's a wonderful workout! Have you tried bouldering? Quick to get into it, no fuss, no equipment, no need for a belaying partner, just you and the wall. Plus many other like-minded people that will inspire you, teach and help you, it's a very nice community.
by Kathy 03.12.2018
Thank you for sharing, Laura! Isn’t it amazing how these lessons can relate to our professional life?
I’m definitely taking away some things to think about when I’m in my next challenging situation.
Can’t wait to see how high you climb!
by Derek 04.06.2021
Hi Laura. Found your article long after it was originally posted. "to belay" your team is a great analogy. Climbing provides consistent opportunities to get into a zone (didn't want to use the overused "flow state"), where a route offers the right amount of difficulty. Challenges you enough but attainable. And when you're bolstered by someone who knows how to belay, you can take those "protected" risks to keeping moving beyond what's comfortable. Enjoyed your article.