Things rarely go as planned

Team agility is incredibly important in order to respond to change and succeed in an uncertain and turbulent environment.

While I know this to be true after four decades of service in the military and business, I had the opportunity to relearn this lesson on a recent family hiking trip in the Adirondacks high peaks. The mountains are absolutely stunning and invigorating, but also challenging, and unforgiving.  I did not anticipate that the unexpected was about to happen.  I had no idea that this hiking trip was not going to go as planned.

At 4,587 feet, Wright Mountain is the 16th highest peak in the Adirondacks.  In the heat of August, the climb can be difficult, but the view is definitely worth it.  My family and I got an early start after a night of camping.  Our collective objective was to successfully summit by mid-day.  We have climbed many mountains all over the world and I had no reason to suspect that today would be any different.  History told us we would be successful.  We felt confident and ready.

As we closed in on the summit, however, I began to experience the unexpected.

My legs started cramping, I could no longer stand, let alone hike, and felt dizzy and unsteady.  I had never experienced anything like this.  For the first time in my life, my body was failing me.  As I rested on the rock face, unable to walk, I encouraged my family to go on without me.  After all, I didn’t want to be the reason they didn’t make it to the top.  My family rejected my suggestion that they leave me, and reminded me of our commitment to stay together, no matter what.  There was even some discussion of calling a rescue helicopter to pluck me off the mountain.  Needless to say, the goal of summiting was no longer the day’s objective.  Rather, the task at hand was adjusted to stabilize my condition and safely descend to our campsite.  My family rallied behind the new objective without judgment or disappointment.  We modified the plan on the fly and everyone pitched in to ensure success.

When we were safely back at the campsite, we conducted an “after action review” to address what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, and what we learned from this hiking experience.

This is a hallmark of a learning organization.  While we did not achieve the original objective of summiting, we did successfully fulfill our purpose in visiting the Adirondacks, to challenge ourselves physically and enjoy the wilderness.  We accomplished the modified objective of stabilizing my situation and returning all family members safely back to the campsite.  We determined that I was not sufficiently hydrated in advance with the right levels of water and electrolytes along the way.  I underestimated the challenge of Wright Mountain and bottom line, was not prepared.  This former US Army Infantry Officer, Ranger School Honor Graduate, and physically fit combat veteran acknowledged the oversight, a lesson relearned.

My experience highlights the need for agility on any team.  In this example, the initial goal of summiting was changed on the fly.

My family embraced the new objective and pitched in to make it happen.  We trusted one another.  We were steadfast in our commitments to one another. We learned from the experience with a deliberate “after action review”.  We incorporated our learnings and two weeks later successfully summited Giant Mountain, a 4,626 foot peak, 12th highest in the Adirondacks.   This time around, we were well hydrated and carried plenty of water and electrolytes for the climb.  We embraced adversity and learned from our experience.    

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