Quitter, Camper, Climber: Who’s on Your Team?

Quitter, Camper, Climber: Who’s on Your Team?

By Richard Lavin, Founder, LEVERAGEDWISDOM richard.lavin@leveragedwisdom.com

Years ago I met Doug Tomkins, an incredibly successful young man who by his early 30 years had built a $100 million women’s clothing line distributing nationally to all the top department stores and boutiques.

I was about his age when we met; but, my accomplishments were much more modest. While he was building successful business including North Face and Esprit selling several hundred million dollars of merchandise, I had built five women’s boutiques and was struggling to manage my success and fearful of growing further beyond my skills.

Eager to learn and curious as to how he had accomplished his success, I asked a lot of questions. Where do you get your ideas? How did you get started? How did you finance your growth? What made you…? As he answered my questions with stories, examples and personal insights something new was revealed about his interests and skills which I came to appreciate as the secret of his success. It turns out that Doug was a world class mountain climber.

As he explained it, high peak mountain climbing is a team endeavor. And, you need to pick your team very carefully because you are actually tied to one another by a lifeline as you make your ascent. This idea of hiring as though your life depended upon it was his methodology for building his management and leadership team. When you are ascending to a 20,000 foot mountain peak, everyone has to be in great physical shape, come mentally prepared, having brought all their equipment and planned meticulously. Each team member had to be exceptionally qualified for his or her role whether it be porter, photographer, medic or climber. There had to be complete trust among the team members and a reliance on open dialogue with an honest appreciation of the challenges ahead. Forgetting to pack equipment or getting sick along the way or having a “good enough” attitude could jeopardize the climb and potentially cause death. After all there were enough hazards of terrain, altitude and weather without compounding the challenges with team weakness.

Doug’s approach to hiring his management and leadership team was the same as when he assembled an expedition team for his high peak climbs. He wanted people who he could depend upon to share a lifeline with him as he built his business.

While I’ve not having learned to mountain climb I have adopted insights gained from my conversations with Doug. Today when hiring I sort through candidates by attempting to discern whether someone is a quitter, camper or climber.

Quitter: Sometimes, they don’t want to even start up the mountain and they let you know it. Otherwise you have to ask a lot of questions to uncover the quitter’s true nature which is to start a lot of projects but somehow always ending up quitting.

Camper: This is the person who shows a lot of enthusiasm for the climb and for all the right reasons is a great hire. Except while climbing up the mountain you come to a nice flat meadow with a beautiful sunrise and running water and the camper wants to camp out. It’s really nice there, with a great view and the camper happens to have enough supplies to just hang in. They’ll urge you to keep climbing, willing to cheer you on from their vantage point. Except you were counting on them to go the distance. Very disappointing.

Climber: The climber has all the attributes, skills and behaviors to make it on Doug’s team. Tough standards; but, then, as he said you’re tied together by a lifeline. Together you can keep climbing.