I was bought up fearing big mountains like Everest as monstrous unfathomable slabs of rock that consumed countless mountaineers. The Eiger was particularly notorious with its menacing north face staring down many a brave attempt to conquer it. Some died appalling deaths during long and complex ascents and descents – played out in grainy black and white TV images.
But then something changed. Someone ditched what had been accepted techniques, traditional ways of thinking and preparing, and the ‘man-v-mountain’ stuff many of us had grown up on. Mountaineer Ueli Stecks found a radically different approach; he started running up the north face of the Eiger in a few hours, ditching much of the hitherto received wisdom.
I could hardly believe what I was hearing as he seemed to have completely reshaped his relationship with mountaineering. Imagine how utterly groundbreaking that is – choosing to run up the Eiger rather than engage with an excruciating struggle with life or death over days. Ueli has broken through mentally and emotionally to an utterly new way of achieving the impossible.
As a professional coach I can understand how reframing can really make a difference. And yet, some people choose stuckness over revelation and breakthrough because to them, pattern familiarity brings a kind of comfort. This is why for me coaching is fascinating; there’s never a dull moment and so much to learn about the ‘human condition’. It’s a reciprocal relationship that often demands as much learning by me as in my coachee; helping someone elicit their light bulb moment also turns on some extra lights for me.
Recently I’ve been working with a particularly interesting client. This person is already achieving much better than average levels of insightfulness and self-awareness but was a bit stuck in terms of one of their key relationships. The challenge seemed to be really getting under the skin of what was making an important colleague tick in terms of their leadership style and driving principles.
As we chatted about possible perspectives, my coachee came up with their own view of what was going on for them:
- At the basic level of engagement with a peer or line manager, one listens and that ‘holds one’s attention’ as it delivers an intellectual buzz – listening for its own sake or for ‘ear pleasure’.
- At level 2, one starts to turn that listening into a kind of understanding because it’s become interesting or useful, but it somehow remains unconnected to how the listener could relate and behave differently.
- However, level 3 is where – with some effort – one can achieve a much deeper and more meaningful engagement with your peers or line manager. Listening and letting go of presumptions, prejudices, and predilections can lead to a deeper level where intellectual understanding translates into real insight and empathy.
So perhaps level 3 behaviour change comes with letting go and allowing a new inner guide unlock some new and reframed responses. A door seemingly opens and offers up a completely different way of looking at something and appreciating its potential impact. It involves some suspension of disbelief and perhaps of some classical responses about what’s ‘good or bad’ management and leadership.
We all have a bit of Ueli in us. We are all capable of radicalising our view of our challenges and reframing our responses but it takes huge self-discipline. More importantly it requires a commitment to finding a way of making that happen and to following through. It can be a lonely place while you’re working it through as you’re in the process of forming new paradigms, but the view from the top is truly magnificent.
Read about Ueli’s achievements here, and get in touch if you’re not sure what might be at the top of your mountain, or if like me, you suffer from vertigo!