Last night I had the privilege of attending the A&L Goodbody annual reception and hear from Rebecca Stephens the first British woman to climb Mount Everest. Inspired not only by this achievement, Rebecca very humbly told us, she was the only person from the expedition of nine other men who reached the summit. A life changing expedition, Rebecca shared many lessons from her trek on the mountain to help leaders navigate the business landscape. Her quote “The joy of the mountains is they strip away any superficialities revealing that which matters: namely head, heart, and values. There’s no greater teacher of the human condition, of leadership and of working together as a team.”

Trust = C+R+I

In society there has never been a lower level of trust in institutions and organisations from government, religion and business. Trust is one of the hot topics in the media, the importance of it for organisations and how easily this can be broken. We remember the damage to Facebook with the data breach, and when PWC caused the wrong winner announcement at the Oscars penetrated PWC offices globally. Trust is such a difficult thing for a business to build, and like any relationship so easily destroyed. Rebecca gave a simple equation on how you ensure you maintain trust, which is crucial for leaders. Firstly credibility, be really good at what you do. Secondly, reliability and do what you say you will when you say you will. Thirdly, intimacy and the importance and building strong personal relationships. These three are underpinned by self-interest. Anyone who focuses solely on their own gain rather than the bigger picture for everyone, will be mistrusted instantly. Seems so simple, but it’s something every leader must continuously focus on.

The importance of the vertical and horizontal axis for sustainable success
Rebecca attributes her success of reaching the summit of Mount Everest to her focus on the horizontal axis. She describes in business, and for leaders the continued focus on the vertical axis, of the relentless drive to achieve more and faster. Without the same focus on the horizontal axis of rest, replenishment and taking time to get clear thoughts and make good decisions, leaders burn out. As Rebecca said, it’s a marathon not a sprint, and if you want to be in the game for the long run you need to focus on the horizontal axis as well as the vertical. I can testify to this personally, on occasions in the past driving hard at the vertical axis with no focus on the horizontal and burning out. Leaders need time to refuel, giving them clarity and strength to tackle the next part of the summit.

Diversity – It’s not only the right thing, it’s essential for business success
Diversity is finally getting the focus it deserves. As Rebecca said, it’s not only the “right” thing to do for people, it’s essential for business success. For example, today there are over 5 generations in the workplace, and having different people with different backgrounds and viewpoints will give the most balanced opinion to take decisions and challenge each other. Ultimately this will lead to better business, and sustainability for the long term.

It’s no longer just about having the best grades
Rebecca discussed another life changing incident, with her eldest daughter being dyslexic and how much it has taught her. She gave numerous examples such as Ernest and Young where employers are ripping up their previous recruitment processes that focused on academic grades and being the top. They now realise, success comes from looking at it from a very different angle, choosing people who are really good in one area but could be really terrible in other areas. Having listened to the Permanent Secretary of Education this week, I was delighted to hear more examples where employers realise there is so much more than just grades to having the best talent. As leaders we must do everything to ensure our teams reach their full potential. For me this is one of the most critical things that will differentiate successful businesses.