Are You Condemning Your Company to Die in the Foothills (or leading it to climb the mountains)?

Business owners know all about risk.

If they listened to all of the cautious advisors and well-meaning friends, concerned about their future and all that they would be giving up, most never would have made the leap to start their business in the first place. There is something comforting in drawing a salary, knowing that you are not the last to be paid.

I have this nagging suspicion, however, that when my business life is over, what I will remember most will be the mountains I felt too daunted to climb.

Worse, it is possible that on that day, hopefully many years from now, I will have gained the insight to perceive whole ranges that I never knew were there.

I think that is the stuff of real regret.

There are, then, two separate and distinct challenges:

Challenge #1: To scan the horizon to look for the mountains.

Challenge #2: To climb them.

Both are key, but anybody can do the first. After all, we can look from the comfort of our living rooms.

Not long ago, a client called with a problem. He had built a great company. A company of modest size, to be sure, but great. It put his children through college, allowed him to put aside a considerable nest egg for retirement, and was the kind of company on which 20 families could rely, without one sleepless night or moment of doubt, to pay their mortgages. No one would have blamed him if he had gotten comfortable. He was, and he had earned the privilege.

But there was this problem. He found that he was going in to work every day, doing the same things, dealing with the same (minor) headaches, and leaving in the evening without being challenged. More than that, he noticed that his employees, like he himself, had gotten comfortable.

So recently he had started looking around. He found a small company in a new territory that would compliment his own. It wasn’t quite circling the drain, but it was close. The owner was looking to sell, and my client was thinking he was crazy for wanting to buy. After years of a solid balance sheet and an untapped line of credit, he’d have to accept some debt to make the purchase. He’d have to learn the ins and outs of a new industry, incorporate new employees, perhaps with their own culture, into his own operations, and risk a good chunk of the harmony he had worked so hard to create.

His question – not exactly a legal concern – was whether or not he was crazy. (You might be surprised how often I get this question.) His conclusion was that it didn’t matter. He wanted to serve something more than just his bank and his balance sheet. He figured that maybe a good night’s sleep wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be…that maybe losing sleep over a challenge accepted could sometimes even be better. He decided to move forward.

I’d love to report that his workforce was similarly galvanized by his decision. Some were. Some left, presumably to seek comfort elsewhere.

All of which brings us back to the climb. My client had gone looking for mountains in his spare time. His dilemma came once he found one. He decided that he just couldn’t bear to live in the foothills. He’d die there.

The climb isn’t for everyone, but the moral of my client’s story is: Don’t go looking for mountain ranges if you don’t intend to climb.

It’s the climb that is the most difficult, and it is what separates the few from the most.

Even a shot at a successful climb takes training, planning and not a little bit of guts. Most of all, it takes a willingness to look at yourself and really examine what you’ve got to give.

So many people of real talent – too many in my estimation – spend their lives in the foothills.

They’ve never made the time to scan the horizon and feared the commitment that an expedition would entail. “I’ll do it next year.” “I’ll give it some real thought while I’m on vacation this summer.”

You know the end of the story – they never do.

My question for you is whether you’ve decided that the foothills are enough.

If not, I’d love to hear your answer to my next question:

What is your strategy for finding and conquering your next mountain … or have you decided the foothills are good enough?

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