What rock climbing taught this Dubai-based auto business entrepreneur
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What rock climbing taught this Dubai-based auto business entrepreneur

What rock climbing taught this Dubai-based auto business entrepreneur

Irfan Tansel, CEO of Al Masaood Automobiles, shares some of his key learnings garnered from years of rock climbing that can help business leaders achieve their ambitious growth plans


When people search for the secret to success, the focus should not be on general qualities, like ‘determination’ or ‘motivation’ – although both are important. Instead, a story often paints a more vivid picture. Rock climbing, for example, with its physical and mental challenges, can offer a powerful tale of what it takes to find success.

In 2009, Brymer & Oades published a paper on the effects of participation in extreme sports. Their findings may surprise you. Far from making you rash or reckless, it turns out that adrenaline-pumping sports such as rock climbing actually build your character, making a person braver, more risk-tolerant as well as more compassionate. I believe I have reaped these benefits firsthand.

Interestingly, Riyadh is home to some of the world’s most extraordinary rock formations, and Faisal’s Pinnacle is where my soul found its sanctuary in the extreme sport of rock climbing in my younger years. To a non-practitioner, rock climbing might seem like an extremely dangerous sport, even borderline deadly. Yet, there is a sense of exhilaration and purpose when you set out to conquer pristine peaks with nothing but your own hands and mind.

Soon enough, I found that my newfound passion for the sport aligned perfectly with my passion for leadership, teaching me the same principles for realising one’s true potential. Here are some key principles garnered from years of rock climbing that may help you on your own journey towards success.

Always aim high
Just as rock climbers strive to reach the top, true leaders seek to propel their businesses to new, often unimagined, heights of success. Their vision for their personal career and the organisation’s growth may seem unrealistic to other individuals, but it’s the very odds-defying nature of their goals that drives them to maintain the discipline required to meet the challenge. After all, a person is barely motivated if their goals are easily attainable. There’s a reason why rock climbing is an exhilarating and addictive sport, while stair climbing is not. When I reached the summit of Faisal’s Pinnacle with my fellow climbers, we found a bottle and paper inside. When we opened the paper, we found out that only seven people had made it to the top before us. The sense of pride when we added our names was nothing short of inspiring.

Set a plan and be prepared for obstacles
An expert rock climber is able to chart a route and stick to it. So should a leader. In a room full of diverse perspectives and competing agendas, a leader should have the clarity of vision to persuade — and inspire — others to defer to his or her set course of action. And just as important: you should have enough conviction in your plan to remain immune to the words of the naysayers that will undoubtedly cross your path.
This does not come by easy. A lot of planning and preparation is needed. When I set out a course of action for a business, the team and I spend weeks – if not months – plotting scenarios, conducting research and charting the future. This is exactly what extreme athletes do. They plan their trainings ahead of time and religiously stick to their plans. Preparedness is your protection against a change in weather and all other possible obstacles.

Create a winning team
Climbers love being around other climbers. When the team are together on a mission, they are collectively committed to the task. While they are competitive as a group, they don’t compete against each other; instead, they push and support each other to meet their common goal. Your fellow climbers need to be competent enough, ambitious enough, and driven enough for you to form the same level of trust.

The secret ingredient to a winning team is a leader that communicates well. Authentic communication creates the trust everyone needs. In group climbing, communication creates trust, which then creates harmony.

When you are 180 metres high on a rock, hanging by your fingertips and tightening your toes till you cramp, tired and possibly frustrated by waves of fatigue, you realise that your life is in the hands of the climber underneath you, who is probably cheering for you with all their might. As a leader you need to reciprocate with a cheer and an update on how the climb is going.

Self-assurance is your authority
When you’re climbing, there are times when fear or fatigue kick in. A good climber is able to rally their inner strength to surmount these momentary setbacks. Team dynamics are heavily influenced by individual personalities; often, it is the member that displays the most self-confidence who is accepted as the group leader and rises to the top of the ladder. Remember: Your authority is established by your temperament, not your rank
or accolades.

Get into the flow
Similar to many extreme sports, climbers talk about getting into the flow or what many athletes refer to as “the zone” – which describes an elongated period of focus. When in ‘the zone’, climbers lose themselves in the action and enter a mindset that creates a sense of euphoria and even blocks pain.

Similarly, a person seeking to achieve their goals needs to develop laser-like focus. By creating such a routine, you can set up conditions where distractions melt away as you enter the flow. In such a state of mind, decision-making and problem-solving will come to you with clarity and ease.

Be certain in times of uncertainty
Once a climber has summited a peak, they must prepare for the other half of their job: a safe descent. Similarly, the head of a leading organisation has to prepare for the good times as well as the bad. Once their organisation has grown to become the market leader, they will face issues such as market relapses or disruptive innovation. They must know how to navigate these crises effectively in order to retain or regain their position.

These are just a few of the lessons one can learn from rock climbing. It may be a dangerous sport, but so is business. And only the fittest, most disciplined and most prepared of us survive both.

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