My lessons from “the other side of a coin” started when, together with my sons, we decided to go to the Mount Kilimanjaro. My decision had nothing to do with Kilimajaro being the biggest free standing mountain in the world or because it is the tallest mountain of the African continent and not even because it bares my name in it. I joined the idea because it was my long lived dream since the times I lived in Africa.
To climb the summit of 5.895 m in eight days via Lemosho route had to be planned well in advance as we were not physically fit for such a challenge. For months prior to the challenge we have been successful at climbing and trekking to each and every hill or mountain available to us in Slovenia. After Kilimanjaro I realize that it was not the trekking of more than 70 km or freezing temperatures that we have underestimated. It was “the other side of a coin.”
High altitude and lack of oxygen proved to be subjected to our naivety in thinking that climbing such a mountain is only a physical challenge. Slow walk, introduced by our guides from the ANDA African Adventure, at the beginning of our tour seemed ridiculous to us, but each succeeding day on the mountain proved that it was the only compulsory physical possibility for success.
First three days have passed in slow trekking and enthusiastic chatting. The beginning of confronting “the other side of a coin” happened on the fourth day, when we were to arrive to 4.600 m Lava Tower peak. We encountered some people that obviously had to turn back, due to a high altitude sickness. The first lesson learned: no matter how well you are prepared your body may still repel.
The fatigue started to creep into us, but the view of the mountain still seemed far, far away. With such a slow walk we wondered if we are ever to reach the peak. That was a moment when we stopped battling the mountain. How could we? Each of us had to fight his internal battle with his mind to keep it on the right track and to ban all thoughts of failure.
The seventh day at 3 a.m. we woke in cold morning – it was the D-day, the time for the final ascent. Seven hours away was the Uhuru Peak, the highest summit on Kibo's crater rim of Kilimanjaro. So, in the night, with lamps attached on our heads, we were on the slope. With a very cold wind around and lack of oxygen it was extremely hard to keep a pace despite all the adrenaline pushing through our bodies. Each one of us had a picture in his mind “Me at the top!” My feet were freezing, so I kept moving although at the snail’s pace. For walking I consumed almost all of the oxygen that I breathed in. There wasn’t much left to use my brain as well. Even though, at the break of dawn I found myself counting steps to occupy my mind and banish the thoughts of failure. From that moment to Stella point at 5.685 m I came to 1.865 steps. Was the number right? I was not confident since I did miss a number or two. Anyway, I didn’t care as it was just a tool and not the aim.
The greatest lesson from the “other side of a coin” that I have learned was: it was not the mountain I had to fight, it was me: it was all about inner me and not about the strength or muscles or endurance or whatever other issue. The battle was pure psychological as it is in confrontation of any major life events or challenges.
The same is in the leadership. Unfortunately, most western management schools teach phrases as: “Three, five, ten lessons to .... whatever” in order to become a superior leader. Those touch mostly external issues. In excellent leadership process it is all about the internal virtue that plays major role in being a great leader as was the case in my experience.