Why business is like ... a climbing party

Last year, 19 high-flying businesswomen swapped their Manolos for mountain boots and set off to climb the highest peak in North Africa, in a trek organised in aid of the Prince's Trust. Accustomed to success, none of them had quite prepared themselves for the shock of their own ineptitude, and as well as a worthwhile fundraising exercise, it proved an invaluable insight into how to manage talent (or a lack of it).

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A Sherpa led the women in single file up a series of narrow tracks, and soon the woman at the back of the line began to lag a long way behind. To make matters worse, by the time she finally arrived at the break points the group would be preparing to set off once again, denying her any rest at all, despite the fact that she needed it the most.

Eventually, the Sherpa insisted that the woman at the back take the place of the woman at the front, forcing the others to walk at her pace and no faster. But instead of slowly trudging on as she had done until then, she, in the words of a fellow mountaineer, 'took off like a gazelle up the mountain'.

When asked what prompted this metamorphosis, she replied: 'I'd started to think I couldn't do it.' Putting her at the front changed her own view of herself, and a shift in ability quickly followed her shift in attitude. Self-perception is a powerful catalyst to unleashing potential.

The next time you despair of a talent-deficient team member, question whether their view of themselves may be stifling their real potential. And if you can't empathise with those who are struggling, I'm sure the Prince's Trust would be delighted to sign you up for its trek across the Namibian desert this autumn.

- Jennifer Harris is director of JRBH Strategy & Management, www.jrbh.co.uk.

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