Leadership lessons from rock climbers. Servant leadership.
Leadership lessons from rock climbing. A belayer keeping an eye on the incoming weather at Chair Ladder, Cornwall, UK. ©Duncan Skelton/Offwidth Images, 2007

Leadership images are unhelpful

Marketing uses adventure sports to sell a picture of leadership that is both glossy and flawed. To see what I mean, go Google “images of leadership in climbing” —  see what what I mean? Dangerous!

This is not good leadership, it’s marketing. Photoshopped, staged, improbable individualism.

The reality of leadership is much less glossy, less Hollywood, and at the same time far richer, more nuanced and interconnected.

What servant leadership looks like

So let me offer you another picture, as a climber and a leadership coach. A more powerful, more aspirational one; one that better represents modern leadership.

Leadership lessons from rock climbers. Servant leadership.Servant Leadership — Belayers on a busy day at the Dewerstone.
Image ©Duncan Skelton/Offwidth Images, 2007

Here we can see real acts of leadership from climbers.

Leadership is…

Serving others’ success

  • holding the ropes for others’ climbs
  • catching people’s falls (making failure safe)
  • working in service of your partner’s goals

Cheerleading others’ endeavours

  • championing, acknowledging, witnessing the efforts
  • offering perspective from your balcony position
  • generating options

Modeling humility

  • partnering with stronger climbers than yourself

  • giving the spotlight to others

  • being ready to take the lead, when necessary, when asked

Giving feedback

  • caring personally, challenging directly

    “your last piece of protection has fallen out”
    “you’re looking at a ground-fall there, put some protection in”

  • course-correcting

    “you’re off-route — go up to the left”

Leaders achieve their results through others. So putting your efforts toward those others – having the purpose of being of service to those others – is where your attention is best placed.

Opportunities for acts of servant leadership abound, at every level. They usually focus on the success of others.

What acts of leadership do you see?