Summit Fever

Often the easiest path does not go as far nor as high.

Posted by Ian Ferguson, Leadership Coach on September 19, 2023

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Summit Fever

As we progress in our careers, we may realise there is more than one route to success and the top of our career mountain. There are at least two routes that could take us there.

One seems shorter and more direct, but it is also a darker path, laden with the dangers of Summit Fever (a drive to reach the top, no matter the cost). The alternative is a lighter, but more challenging higher-level route.

"In truth, everyone has a mixture of selfish and selfless desires, and it comes down to which has the bigger emphasis in our priorities."

Both routes can bring Money, Status and Power but for those that are more selfish they can become the end in themselves. For those that are more selfless, they are not the destination but rather benefits that are acquired as they help others climb.

We can call these the Selfish and the Selfless Paths and think of the Selfish Path having priorities of self-first, others second. Whereas the Selfless Path is more, others first, self-second. In truth, everyone has a mixture of selfish and selfless desires, and it comes down to which has the bigger emphasis in our priorities. Either one can grow as we progress and both paths can be to our detriment if we do not take care and tread consciously.

The Selfish Path

The clear danger of the Selfish Path is to suffer from Summit Fever and unwittingly sacrifice that which we hold dear, such as the love and respect of others, or the moral sense of value in doing the right thing. Yet, being a bit selfish, “competitive” and “putting myself first for a while”, seems so reasonable. We tell ourselves “I will know when enough is enough and stop being selfish before going too far. I will be able to find my way back to more Selfless ways.”

But success, self-esteem and respect rightly bring pride, and pride can too easily become hubris. Our egos like the feeling of success and we can find ourselves unwittingly being drawn into tasting Money, Status and Power. And they taste good.

"Money, Status and Power can fuel Summit Fever. They can be very alluring and undoubtedly fuel aspiration and energise action which can bring reward and progress."

All too often and all too quickly, we can find ourselves deciding to take that job which will mean we are at home less often, we miss our child’s birthday, forgo the gym, miss time with our friends, postpone self-development or hobbies. We swallow our tongues when a colleague is being unfairly criticised, accept bad decisions without challenge and fail to speak truth to power for fear of losing preferential status. We consume with even greater intensity on new cars, houses and travel to ensure our lives match up with those we seek to emulate and to make up for the lack of fulfilment in our lives outside work.

Money, Status and Power can fuel Summit Fever. They can be very alluring and undoubtedly fuel aspiration and energise action which can bring reward and progress. However, if they become too important to us, and we catch Summit Fever, they can hold the seeds of corruption, group think, bad decision making and ultimately our downfall.

The Selfless Path

Yet, ironically, success, development and growth are also very often fuelled by Money, Status and Power. Without the affirmation of these, people would find it much more difficult to feed their self-esteem needs in commerce. The allure of these three, constantly pull us off our Selfless Path and encourage our selfish desires.

"The Selfless Path means focusing on others, helping them feel confident and developing their skills. It means our primary focus should be on what customers, colleagues and teams need, rather than what we need."

The reality is, that our collective dislike of those with Money, Status and Power are when they are misused or when they are clearly the end in themselves. We tend not to mind people who gain these if they retain humility and if we believe they were the result of some other useful achievement where Money, Status and Power were not the goal in themselves.

However, very few people who have ever achieved anything did it for purely altruistic or selfless reasons. Most people set out with a positive attitude to make money, do good work to help people and be happy. Yet, when we judge bad leadership it is usually more to do with the leader’s attitude than their skill. Undoubtedly, this is because so many leaders lose their way and allow Money, Status and Power to cloud their judgement and sacrifice their original ideals.

The Selfless Path means focusing on others, helping them feel confident and developing their skills. It means our primary focus should be on what customers, colleagues and teams need, rather than what we need. It means devolving power rather than hording it, sharing credit and speaking truth to power. It means acting with integrity and being a person of your word. It means being authentic, in alignment with company values and the type of leader people are inspired to follow, rather than required to follow. It also means making time for ourselves and those that matter to us.

Even those that take this Selfless Path will naturally want their actions to bring them Money, Status and Power. We are all only human after all and there is no doubt they are positive incentives as without them, we may not push ourselves to climb as far as we might. So how can we use them as fuel without being drawn on to the Selfish Path and suffering from Summit Fever?

Avoiding Summit Fever

The key is to frame Money, Status and Power as rewards not goals.

They feel much better if they are achieved as a result of taking actions for the greater good rather than to achieve them for their own sake.

There are critical skills for any leader who wants to do this and achieve success in a way that does not overly focus on the Selfish Path and tip over into arrogance, corruption or bad decisions. Identifying our values, what matters most to us and what sustainable growth would look like (both personal and business) are the foundations or success factors for the path we set for ourselves. If we do not know the basis of the success we desire, how can we be sure we are remaining aligned to it?

Knowing these critical success factors for our route to success and regularly course correcting to get back on our preferred path (following inevitable deviation) is essential if our growth is to be sustainable and ultimately fulfilling.

We are less likely to fall if our feet are firmly planted on solid ground. Working with trusted peers, colleagues or a coach to continually gather direct and challenging feedback keeps us rooted in reality.

Listening to our customers, colleagues and employee opinions with a mind open to learning from criticism and checking ourselves regularly against our Health and Happiness goals. Are we looking after our minds and bodies, are we prioritising the people that matter to us and are we sticking to our values?.

These are the antidotes to the allure of Money, Status and Power. They keep us in balance to achieve a sustainable growth path that is good for us, our families, colleagues, customers and the planet.

Which path are you on? Do you know?

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