• December 2011

Herta von Stiegel Helps Us Climb "The Mountain Within"

By Andrea Keating
Crews Control

When I first met Herta von Stiegel (pictured right), I knew instantly that she was special.

The founder and CEO of the Ariya Capital Group, a Gaborone- and UK-based fund management firm focusing on sustainable investments in Africa, is an international executive who has held senior positions at Citibank and JP Morgan.

She is also the woman who in July 2008 spearheaded a trek to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro with 28 climbers—seven of them disabled. Against incredible odds, 60 percent of the group made it to the summit—remarkable, considering that only 35 percent of climbers typically achieve that goal.

The Mountain Within is the book that came from the experience. It bears the name of Herta’s award-winning documentary, which vividly tells the emotionally charged story of the climb that changed her life.

I have no doubt that simply reading this book, and seeing the documentary, will impact your life as well.

For me, knowing Herta has been an experience I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t found my own courage. We connected one evening last summer at a retreat of The Committee of 200, an international, nonprofit group of more than 400 powerful women who own and run companies.

I was at a place in my life where I was looking for other women to teach me how to weather some of my challenges. I know from the decades that I have spent running the film-and-video-crew staffing agency, Crews Control, that great leaders are catalysts who can change your life—without even knowing it.

Such a moment came for me as we sat munching on chocolate-chip cookies and polishing off a bottle of wine. About an hour into our chat, Herta casually pulled out the author’s copy of a book she had written. I read the entire 226-pager in the following days.

In fact, I was so inspired by the book that I wanted to introduce Herta to all of my friends, business colleagues, and media connections. So on Oct. 25, I hosted an event featuring the book at the National Press Club. My friend, Be Inkandescent Magazine publisher Hope Katz Gibbs, was in the audience, and was so intrigued that she asked me write about “The Mountain Within” for her magazine.

While the idea of writing an article made me a little nervous, I heard Herta’s voice in my head, and agreed. In fact, I was happy to do it because I believe the 16 leadership lessons in the book are the perfect guide for today’s business and political leaders. See some of those, below.

Also intriguing are her conversations, which she recounts in the book, with some of the world’s most influential business leaders, including Al Gore, David Blood, Kay Unger, Sung-Joo Kim, Dr. Joachim Faber, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, Marsha Serlin, and more.

As Herta writes in the preface: “This book is about leadership, because we need a new brand of business and political leaders … who can relate spiritually and humanely to their fellow human beings, who can overcome challenges and exhibit innovation, creativity, and the courage to tackle obstacles as they arise. In this case, it was an actual mountain that was scaled. But leaders should realize that it is the mountain within that needs to be conquered, one day at a time.”

Here’s to that. — AK

Leadership Lessons from Herta von Stiegel’s “The Mountain Within.”

1. Resilience: Choose to Persevere. Whenever the outlook starts to look grim, don’t give up. Persevere when things are tough and you can’t even see the light at the end of the tunnel. Persevere, whether you are struggling across a boulder field or in a conference room, whether you are dealing with the secret police or with hostile executives who can destroy your career, even when (or especially when) you don’t have a penny to your name. Look inward and remember your high points, those moments of undeniable success that you have achieved. Look to your personal life also for the resources and guidance that you need—it’s not all about business. Remember that calm voice from inside that brought clarity to chaotic times in the past. Remember those moments when the stakes were high and you made it work. Perseverance is what gets us through, it is the first step toward bouncing back, brushing oneself off, and resuming one’s course.

2. Career vs. Calling: Hang on to Your Vision. People will discourage you. They may tell you that your vision of how you see your success is unrealistic, culturally wrong, unsophisticated, or impractical. But if you have a vision in your heart (if you feel it), you know it. Choose to do more than just build a career, important as that may be. Discover your calling, your passion, and pursue your vision—not just for money or fame, but also to make a real difference in the world.

3. Project Management: Divide Your Journey Into Steps. You best chance at reaching a goal that you’ve set is to survey it in its entirety; then sit down and painstakingly divide it into small, achievable steps. Not only does this promote progress, it reduces stress and gives you small feelings of accomplishment along the way. After all, we all need as much self-encouragement as we can muster. Another good idea is to hire and train employees who are able to master this technique. Rather than being overwhelmed, they’ll be optimistic and enthusiastic as they tick off each small achievement on the list. I’ll bet you that these employees will be the ones who are most likely to succeed—and, in turn, that will make your entire team successful.

4. The Attraction of Preparation: Ruthlessly Prepare. It’s not enough to prepare for the obvious. Preparation means assessing the entire situation that presents itself, and most importantly, the human beings around you. It means planning for contingencies and looking at that details in the most objective way possible—while never losing sight of the big picture.

5. Failure: Fail Fast, and Fail Forward. There will always be people around you—jealous colleagues, conniving up-and-comers, threatened leaders on the way down—who are ready to use your failure as a dagger. It is anything but. Each failure breeds more learning, and gives you a fresh frame of reference for a new beginning. Not only does failure lead to personal growth—it leads to success. The more you fail, the more you are trying. Don’t give up. Give failure its proper role in your mind: a place to dwell briefly, learn and reflect, and move on from quickly.

To learn more about the documentary, click here www.themountainwithin.com.

Click here to buy The Mountain Within.

And to learn more about Books for Bricks, the nonprofit organization from which sales of her book has so far helped to raise $15,000, click here to make a donation.

About Andrea Keating

Andrea Keating founded Crews Control in 1988 as the first film-and-video-crew staffing agency. Since then, the company’s focus has been to match each client with the perfect local crew for each specific shoot.

“That means we can offer our clients the quickest response time when they need to book a crew, and then provide the most dedicated customer service in the business,” she says.

Click here to learn more.

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