May 18th, 2011
This past weekend I pursued my favorite pastime and went backpacking in the Highlands of southwest Virginia. That 50 lb. pack never seems to feel normal but backpacking is a wonderful hobby where time seems to move slowly. During this trip we hiked a loop trail that happened to cover the Appalachian Trail. We have all heard of the AT — some of us even have walked it. Even fewer though, less than a few thousand, have ever walked its entire length of over 2,450 miles!
Those that are out on the trail, called “thru hikers,” have their own sub culture. It is not uncommon to strike up a long conversation on the trail or to have a stranger share their last granola bar with you when you stop for a break. The culture is free and easy.
The most interesting part of the hiking culture for me are trail names. Trail name, you say? Hikers either adopt a name for themselves while out on a trail (my preference) or someone names you based on an event that happens to you or sometimes because of a shared life story. We met “Four Bears”, a wonderful 78 year old man who had been hiking on his own for the last 6 weeks — his goal was to see all of his favorite spots on the trail just one more time. We met “Biscuit” who was two months in to his goal of walking from Springer Mountain, Georgia all of the way to Maine. He was 500 miles in and he had already lost 25 pounds on his sojourn, proud and aware of how hard it was going to be to walk in the woods for three to four more months. My buddies have trail names like Diesel, Duke and newly minted Trillium, for his love of flowers and fauna.
I have been named Chingachgook, a guide from Last of the Mohicans. He always walked out in front. Call me anxious or a little nuts but I have always felt more comfortable leading the way. In fact, my wife laughs about this at the mall or a stroll in the neighborhood, because I just can’t seem to slow down. While hiking with my family in the Tetons, my father-in-law found it so funny, that he coined the Chingachgook name. And it has stuck to this day.
As a entrepreneur, being ahead of the pack and visionary is a good thing. Especially if you are well grounded and can focus on the execution of your plan. Do leaders need to be out in front? We all can picture the Army captain taking the hill leading his troops that follow behind. It is what I was taught and what many expect. As a hiker? Well, perhaps there is value in slowing down to see the world around you.
October 28th, 2010
I have a dream to climb Mt. McKinley in Alaska – all 20,320 feet of it. All of my friends and family know it, my mom begs me not to talk about it and my wife laughs a little knowing that I am all talk (for now). I hike and backpack year-round and take several recreational hiking trips. There is always a peak involved, small east coast peaks that challenge us about as much as a normal day at the office. To climb McKinley, you have to train ridiculously hard (see the sample workout that I have used) and work up to it by climbing one of the many “fourteeners” (14,000 ft. peaks) in Colorado, then you move on to Mt. Rainier in Washington. This is standard mountain climbing play book stuff.
In training for such a difficult climb, one must train to the concept of the McKinley Edge – going beyond your training comfort zone. When faced with a life threatening situation, no matter how tired or exhausted you are, there must be reserves left – a final gear to get you out of danger. The McKinley Edge involves training your body for that extreme or going to maximum heart beyond the point of exhaustion. Each person has a different stress tolerance or pain threshold. Everyone’s endurance level is different. The key thing is you can train your body for extremes and that really got me thinking…
If you can find the McKinley Edge for you body, can you work on it for your business? Can you find your leadership McKinley Edge? I think you can. As a young man while working at Placers I had many different roles and assignments. As soon as I thought I mastered one office, I got two. When I learned to handle managing managers I got five direct reports. Never managed the HR function or sales? I got the exposure and it definitely did not come easy. I would like to apologize now to those early employees that had to teach me to manage them. I had the motivation and desire, good mentors and my work ethic was non-stop. Still I had to get used to the stress and responsibility and grow into it. I had to want to grow into it.
The key was something that my father, Alan Burkhard, theorized and has lived everyday of his life: You can train for stressful situations in business by practice. It involves getting comfortable with change; you have to want to exploit it. It can not happen to you; you must make it happen. The McKinley Edge in business is different for all of us.
You can get there by:
- Seeking out special projects and additional responsibility at work. Gain an edge.
- Make a presentation in front of others.
- Start a business – SO MUCH TO LEARN! It is a constant McKinley Edge training session for years to come.
- Put yourself in new/uncomfortable business situations.
- Work from an entrepreneurial business!
My McKinley Edge at this point? It never changes. Every two weeks I have to meet payroll for my company. This is one thing I will never get used to. Take a moment and define your McKinley Edge for your role or your business and post your thoughts! I have learned that most would send me an email in private instead of posting – find your edge and post….