Author Herta von Stiegel scales summits en route to becoming a better business leader.
In 2008 Herta von Stiegel, a lawyer and financial executive who has worked at global institutions including Citibank, JP Morgan and AIG, found herself on the rocky slope of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro with a group of inexperienced, disabled climbers, facing hours of tough terrain ahead--and the distinct possibility of failing to summit for the second time in her life.
Yet not only did von Stiegel and her group reach the fabled mountain's peak, the experience also illuminated leadership skills that she shares in her book The Mountain Within. The story follows von Stiegel's journey from a thwarted attempt to climb Kilimanjaro several years earlier through her mission to scale the mountain in a successful effort to raise the profile of an organization that helps disabled people transition to independent living. Along the way, she homes in on decision points, each of which posed leadership challenges she had to overcome.
Lesson One, "Resilience," opens with von Stiegel facing an agonizing choice: After hours of rough climbing, a member of her group simply couldn't go on. Should she leave the climber behind in a medic's care and lead the rest to the summit, or should she keep the group together and fail to achieve their goal? "Unlike in my dealings in the corporate world," she writes, "here there was no room for negotiation, no use in putting on a tough facade."
This juncture in von Stiegel's narrative leads naturally to a discussion of resilience in business in which the author also shares the inspirational story of fashion designer Kay Unger, whose business rebounded after a series of setbacks including bankruptcy and divorce.
In all, von Stiegel serves up 16 such lessons, and while the repetitive structure can at times feel forced, she moves the narrative along at a brisk pace, artfully weaving the story of her climb with the abstract issues it raises.
Are there days when your leadership journey feels like you're scaling Kilimanjaro? Take courage--according to The Mountain Within, with the right attitude and sound decision-making, anything is possible.
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