Keep Climbing

Climbing. What mental picture comes to mind? When you hear the phrase “Keep Climbing? Up, up and further up maybe? Our cultural orientation towards success, seems to have an inbuilt picture of conquering a mountain, the tough climb to the top, with the reward of the glorious view from up there. A sunrise or a sunset to be enjoyed from that mountain top is picture perfect.

What we often forget is that climbing down is as important a skill to cultivate. A friend recently said to be “flowers grow in the valley…” in the context of the beauty that can be found at a bottom of a hill, where the river runs and flowers bloom. Much of the way media and society portrays grow is always about more, more, more and going higher up the ladder. Not enough light is shone on the equally needed skill of climbing down from one mountain top, enjoying what the valley has to offer and then finding another mountain to climb up again.

Doer to Delegator. Take for instance the early part of a career or when you are starting something new. At that point the focus is on developing a new skill. Doer mode is activated and the better I become at doing, the higher up I climb. Suddenly a new expectation is often thrust upon me, I now need to do more, and in order to do so, I need to lead a team, so I must climb down the doer mountain and climb up to the peak of being a great Delegator. This transition is often hard.

Leader to Mentor. The same holds true once the leadership skills have been honed and that mountain is conquered. A new peak appears on the horizon, from decisive and bold leadership to being asked to be the wind beneath others’ wings, to coach and mentor them, and to allow new leaders the space to climb. A lot of focus seems to be on building skills and behaviours that support people on the way up the hill. Less attention is paid to enabling a skilful and elegant descent.

I did find a master class on how to do this in the documentary, ‘Federer: 12 Final which gave me a sense of the effort and preparation that he put into saying goodbye to professional tennis as a player and preparing for his ‘What next?’. It was amazing to watch Roger climbing down from professional tennis. The way he prepared himself and those around him for the climb was an extension of his way of being. He made it look elegant and effortless and he set himself up for the next point. From the court to taking center stage on other podiums, he continues to climbing.

Nature teaches us life is circular. Success is naturally the same. Failure is merely learning if you keep moving forward. What lies behind the image you are trying to show the world? Do you have the courage to confront reality? How is this all linked to the world of reputation and public relations? The courage to move toward a vision that other people cannot see is often what a good PR person needs to exhibit. Not to tell the easy or popular story, but the one that needs to be told. Getting internal stakeholders aligned to walk this path is often the skilful work of a good PR practitioner.

Many years ago, when I was working in an auto company, the Managing Director, directed me to get some stories published about how good our service was (we were notoriously poor on that front), hence the need to improve our image, and his ask. I convinced him that even if I did get the stories published, it would do us more harm than good because people would now be expecting better service from us and this raised expectation would further anger them when they found nothing had changed. Instead, a year-long internal campaign to improve our service finally translated into stories in the press that we were the most improved service brand is what good public relations is all about.

Accepting, acknowledging, and addressing the core issues and then saying here is what we are doing about it is a powerful PR story. Covering it up may work for a short while but it will eventually emerge and that is what damages reputation most – because trust is broken. Learning how to climb down a few stairs gracefully and with the knowledge that it will lead the organisation to the next climb up is the role of the PR professional. For this we must have the courage to help lead the way through action first followed by communication. PR is not about PRetending. Living well is also about being on this journey of embracing authenticity. Keep climbing, up or down does not matter, as long as you move forward.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nikhil Dey
Nikhil Dey is Executive Director, Adfactors PR.

A trusted coaching and communications professional, Nikhil Dey is a certified life and leadership coach (International Coach Federation - ICF). Nurturing talent and helping clients achieve their goals is what makes him happy. He loves learning from students of communication, teaching courses and guest lecturing at various educational institutions. When he is not working you will find him on the tennis court or out for long walks with his family and four legged friends.

Previously he has held senior leadership positions at Weber Shandwick and Genesis BCW.

He can be reached on twitter @deydreaming

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