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May 2024

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  Further Lessons from Kilimanjaro (Part 4) / Events

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To The Top: Further Leadership Lessons from My Climb Up Kilimanjaro (Part 4)

Uhuru Summit
At the Top: Uhuru Peak, 19,340 ft.

I was on my way to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. What other lessons would I learn going to the top? My February, March, and April newsletters set the stage and highlighted lessons to: Clarify Your PURPOSE, Establish a PLAN, PREPARE, and CONNECT with people.

Here's more of the story and leadership lessons learned from getting To The Top as well as serving as State Chief Information Officer and being a serial technology entrepreneur. Let's talk about using these lessons to help you and your organization climb to new heights.

Lesson 6. Pursue Purpose

For most people, including me, it's close to impossible to sleep at 15,000 ft. This elevation takes its toll. Many people, especially those who have not had enough water, are feeling elevation sickness.

At midnight, after very little sleep and eating just a few biscuits, we headed out for the final leg. It would be over six hours of climbing to the top. Sure, it was a walk-up and luckily not technical climbing, yet the elevation, wind, and cold would make it more challenging. Fortunately, it was a clear night with a full moon lighting our way step-by-step up the mountain. I used these strategies:

Be Prepared. I carried my own day pack with extra gear for the cold, plus dried apples from home for energy along with two liters of water in hard, plastic bottles. Even with our constant movement, it was frigid.
Use a Meditative Approach. I got into the zone — step by step. I used my spirit companion as a guide, meditating on body sensations including breath, mental images, and internal talk. Breathe in, step. Breathe out, step.
Be Clear on Your Goal. I knew from the beginning that I was going to get to the top. I wondered who else in my group would make it. The weather in the mountains usually starts clear and gets cloudy as the day progresses. The rule of thumb is to be off the mountain by noon. It became obvious to me that certain people were going too slowly to make it to the top in time.

BUSINESS LESSON. At OIT when I started, I took the organization through a strategic planning process. We discerned our core values and determined that "Innovation" was key. This value had always been there, but had not explicitly been stated. We set the goal to innovate, and through the myColorado app and many other projects we passionately pursued that purpose.

Lesson 7: Assess Progress

I assessed the situation. Our group was going slowly, too slowly to make it to the summit before bad weather moved in. When I considered my goal in comparison to my guide's responsibility to stay back with the slowest group members, I knew I had to TAKE ACTION to MAKE MID-COURSE CORRECTIONS. I spoke to my guide and said, "I'm going to the top. I don't think everyone in our group will make it. Please get me connected to another guide with a faster group." Thankfully, without argument, he quickly did just that.

Now with a new group, we were making progress to the top. Slowly, slowly (pole, pole), but not too slowly, we made our way up the mountain. Many people got sick from the elevation. There was vomit along the trail, but I wasn't distracted by that. I stayed the course. My mantra was: FOCUS, FINISH, and FLY.

It was starting to get light at 4:00 AM. This provided an opportunity to RECOGNIZE PROGRESS. We were higher than any other mountains in the distance.

We made it to 18,651 ft, Gillman's Point, at 5:30 AM. Some people stopped there. Not me. I was clear on my goal to make it to the very top. There was significant elevation gain. I was higher than I had ever been in my life. I was breathing heavily, and it was frigidly cold with fierce winds. Glad I had PACKed appropriately. I put on my warmer down jacket.

Now the going was very, very slow. Using the 'divide and conquer' approach of the Persistence Strategy from Pursuit of Passionate Purpose, I took two breaths for every one step, continuing with focused determination. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, step. The summit was in sight. Although it was less than 200 ft higher, it took over an hour to make it to Uhuru Peak at 19,340 ft.

My new group made it to the top, the first group to summit that day. We knew that we still needed to get safely back down. But first we stopped to enjoy the view, recognize our success, APPRECIATE everything it took to get here, and CELEBRATE this accomplishment in pursuing our passionate purpose.

Later, I learned that the slowest member of my original group also summitted later that morning. The lesson was, NEVER UNDERESTIMATE OTHERS who have their own passionate purpose.

The climb helped me know and nurture myself and, as a result, IGNITE my PASSIONS.

BUSINESS LESSON. How would we measure progress with Innovation at OIT? The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) had an annual innovation competition. My first year as CIO, we did not win an innovation award. I set the goal for OIT to win an innovation award the next year. We submitted the My Colorado app up against many strong contenders. There is nothing so motivating as having a clear goal and then working persistently toward it as a passionate purpose. This is a means to deliver extraordinary results. The State of Colorado won two innovation awards that year! We had reached a summit!

Applying this to you. What challenges keep you up at night and are hindering you from reaching new heights? My organization can help through coaching, speaking, consulting. and board service. Topics include strategic planning and marketing, growing sales and market share, spurring innovation, reducing risks and costs, and getting started with AI. Contact me for a complimentary exploratory discussion.


Remember, whether you're climbing a mountain or striving to perform in other aspects of your personal or business life, recognize that the journey is a pursuit of passionate purpose. The lessons learned in reaching the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro align with the proven 4-phase Szczurek Process from Pursuit of Passionate Purpose: (1) find your passion by knowing and nurturing yourself, (2) align it with a meaningful purpose, (3) pursue it persistently with a plan and the proper people, (4) until you assess progress, make midcourse corrections, and celebrate success. You will get top results!

Selected Events

May 16, 2024. Theresa speaks at the Colorado Chamber of Commerce's Tech Alliance Program. Panel discussion on "AI: Executive Briefing." 8:30-10:30 AM MT. Invitation only. Email Julie Coakley to request an invitation.

May 21, 2024. Consider joining Theresa at the May Social of the Private Directors Association. 4:00-6:00 PM MT, Castle Rock, CO. Members and guests are welcome. Register here.

May 22, 2024. Women Powering Change. FREE. Join with others working passionately to create change. Be part of the conversations about sustainability, social justice, gender equity and more. 3:00-7:00 PM MT, McNichols Center, Denver. Register for free.

May 25 - June 1, 2024. I will be in Philadelphia and New York. If you are in that area, let me know and let's get together.

June 17- 19, 2024. Join me at the GlobalMindED conference in Denver. I speak on the "Women in Technology" panel on 6/18. Bring students to attend the pre-conference and more. Attend the full event. Consider becoming a sponsor, getting a table at the 6/17 award dinner, exhibiting at the 6/19 Industry Marketplace, and participating in the 6/19 Juneteenth Celebration.

Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D.
C-Level Executive, Certified Corporate Director, Certified Management Consultant®, Executive Coach, Speaker, and Colorado CIO of the Year

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Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D.

Technology and Management Solutions

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