Courage In Your Quiver

Mt. Kilimanjaro, at 19,300 feet, is Africa’s tallest mountain. For experienced climbers, it’s a very tough challenge. Last month, over an eight-day journey, American citizen Spencer West used his arms and hands to propel his torso up the mountain. What does it take to summit without legs?

Born with a genetic disorder call sacral agenesis, West’s legs were removed below his pelvis at age 5. “Reaching the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro was the most the most mentally and physically challenging thing I have ever done,” said West. His efforts raised more than $500K for Free the Children which will use the funds to provide clean water to hundreds of thousands struggling from the worst Kenyan drought in 60 years.

Redefine Challenges

West called his quest Redefine Possible. In news accounts, he asked:  “If I enter life without legs and climb the largest mountain in Africa and overcome that challenge, what more can you do in your daily lives to define what’s possible for you? We all have the ability to redefine what’s possible – whether you’re missing your legs or not. Everyone has challenges and challenges can be overcome.” Training for the climb required more than a year of preparation.

West’s example is inspiring. We’ve all been a witness to others who press on despite obvious handicaps. My own brother, at 30, was robbed and viciously assaulted while on a business trip. His severe head injury required years of rehabilitation to be able to walk, eat and talk, again. Despite aphasia and paralysis, he is a productive, capable, and funny guy with a terrific family.

Courage Counts

There are many factors that contribute to accomplishment despite challenges. What’s common in these two examples? Courage. It is the mental strength to face risks, danger, uncertainties and pain without succumbing to fear. People with mettle, resolve, pluck, or courage choose to persevere.

The most effective leaders and managers are brave. They are clear in principle and undaunted. While you may not have the burdens of physical limitations, it’s highly probable you have political, social, economic, and other obstacles.

Robert Kennedy left us a good benediction in this matter: “Few are willing to brave the disappointment of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of society. Moral courage…is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to transform a world which yields most painfully to change.”

When things look impossible – think about a man who climbed a very tall, rugged mountain without legs and feet. Offer your colleagues renewal through encouragement. And, be sure to put courage in your quiver!

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See :

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