Leadership Lessons From Meru

A Reel Leadership Article

Meru documents the first successful ascent of Meru Peak’s Shark Fin route. This ascent was accomplished by three climbers. These climbers are Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk.

This documentary felt a lot like the recent documentary Free Solo which chronicled Alex Hannold’s attempt to be the first person to free solo El Capitan. Both movies showed men doing feats that were thought to be impossible.

Man climbing Meru

Meru is a big-wall climb. Many elite climbers have tried and failed to ascend to the summit over the last 30 years. This movie documents the first ever successful climb.

Today, we’re going to look at Meru the movie and see what we can learn about leadership. As I sat and watched the movie, I was awed by the leadership lessons in Meru. I think you will be as well.

Leadership Lessons From Meru

1. It’s hard to look into the future:

Meru opened with climbers Conrad, Jimmy, and Renan attempting their first climb of Meru. They were shrouded in darkest as they were beginning one of their climbs at night.

All they had to guide them was their headlamps. Their headlamps gave out a decent amount of light. However, the light was nothing compared to what the sun would give them.

They had to use their limited line of sight to guide themselves up dangerous crags and crevices. The lack of light made it hard to see their next move.

Leaders have to have keen insight into the future. Yet their insight can only go so far.

Many times, you will only have a limited view of what’s to come. You may believe you know what is to come. The truth is, you don’t know what is coming.

You will have to lead with limited knowledge. Limited visibility.

2. Leaders pursue their calling:

When Conrad married his wife, Jennifer Lowe-Anker, he had told her he wouldn’t do big climbs anymore. Shortly after their marriage, he went back on his word. He was drawn, or called, to climb.

Jennie knew this. She knew she couldn’t prevent her husband from pursuing his calling. Conrad knew he couldn’t resist his calling. So, he pursued one of the biggest climbs of his life.

When you’re called to do something, you can feel it. There’s a pull. A nagging tug you can’t shake. There’s something missing.

This is often your calling. You hear the siren call. And you must pursue her.

If you hear your calling, listen to it. See if it’s worth pursuing. Then pursue your calling.

3. Leaders seek out others with great reputations:

Conrad and Jimmy had climbed together for approximately 10 years when Meru takes place. Renan was a relative newbie to them. They’d heard rumblings about Renan from their climbing buddies but he wasn’t known to them.

As they researched Renan, they began to find out he had a great reputation. Other climbers respected him. The videos of his climbs showed a skilled climber. His reputation said he would be a valuable team member.

What are you doing to build your reputation? Are you working on building a reputation that will make others desire for you to be on their team? Or are you doing enough to get by?

Great leaders know they can’t just skate by. They have to be great at what they do. Work on doing great things and building your reputation.

4. Great leaders help others summit:

When you’re climbing with a group, the climb isn’t about your ascent. Your climb is about the group’s ascent.

Your team will help you reach the summit. If they know you can’t reach the summit, they will remind you of the danger. Then you and your team will look at the situation and see what the best course of action is.

We often think of leadership as a solo sport. You’re leading a team, they’re following you, and you make the decisions. This isn’t the case.

Great leaders know they need a team. This a team that will work together and help one another. It’s not a solo ascent to the top.

Rather, great leaders will get to the top and help others get there as well. They know they need to be helping others as they go up. Without people, there’s no point to leading.

5. Leaders will fail:

Conrad Anker had attempted to climb Meru previously. His first attempt ended in an epic failure.

He could have given up after the first failure. He did not. Instead, he chose to persist and try again. He eventually succeeded in climbing the Shark Fin on Meru in 2011.

The sound of failure is demoralizing. You can easily feel failure will be the death of you. However, death is rarely the result of a failure in leadership.

Rather, you may be embarrassed or have a setback in the progression of your career. More likely than not, neither of those things will happen.

Failure will more than likely result in you learning a great lesson and moving forward. You will bounce back from failure, learn from the failure, and accomplishing something much more than you expected.

6. Leading gets harder:

Climbing Meru was easy at first. Conrad, Renan, and Jimmy mentioned how easy the first 4,000 feet of the Shark Fin was. When they got about 4,000 feet, the challenge really began.

The climb became more technical and demanding. It required more of them than the start of the climb. Their ascent slowed drastically.

The beginning of leadership may seem easy. You may have been able to step into a role and it fit like a glove. Then, later on, things began to challenge you more.

This is what happens in leadership. You will be faced with more difficult challenges the longer you lead. Be prepared to face more challenges the longer you lead.

7. Ride out the storms:

On their first attempt to summit Meru, the 3 climbers had to portaledge (hanging tent system designed for rock climbers who spend multiple days and nights on a big wall climb) for 4 days on the rock face. This was due to a storm that hit the mountain during their climb.

They were able to chill safely inside of the tent while the storm raged outside. They waited and waited… Then they were able to exit their tent and continue their climb.

Don’t run at the first sign of a leadership storm. A leadership storm will not knock you out if you hunker down and ride out the storm.

Use the storm to test your mettle and see what you’re made of. You can make it through the storm if you don’t give up.

8. Great leaders find mentors and become mentors:

Conrad Anker is known as a master mountaineer. He has climbed mountains others have failed to climb. Why has he been so successful? He sought out a mentor in Terry “Mugs” Stump.

Then Conrad took on a mentee. This mentee was Renan Ozark. Conrad and Jimmy both helped Renan become a world-class climber.

These climbers knew they needed a mentor. Much like these climbers, leaders need mentors as well.

You need someone who can show you the ropes. Once you learn the ropes, you need someone who can show you the more difficult battles a leader will face.

In the midst of all of this, you will need to find someone to teach these leadership skills to as well. You will be the mentee who becomes the mentor.

9. Your crap will fall to those you lead:

Conrad was attempting to summit Meru. Underneath him were Jimmy and Renan.

What happened to Renan was frustrating. He was waiting for his chance to ascend. In his waiting, he was hit with falling snow and ice shrapnel that fell from the lead climber.

You may think what you do will have no consequence on those you lead. You’d be wrong. Your team will be impacted by the actions you take.

Much of what you do will fall to those below you. To those you lead.

You need to be careful how much crap blows back on those under you. You need to own your crap and make sure you’re watching out for those you lead.

10. It’s okay to change direction:

Conrad, Renan, and Jimmy had to make a difficult decision. Do they summit the Shark Fin or do they turn around? They were running out of food, energy, and time. They had to make a decision.

What made this decision harder was the fact they were only 100 meters from the summit. They were so close. They were also so far away.

In the end, they chose to descend the mountain rather than summit. They knew they had to make a wise choice to make it out of there okay.

You’ve put a lot of energy into creating a vision that will empower and energize your team. You may have worked so hard to get so close to reaching your goal only to realize it’s not the right path to take.

If you reach this point, know it’s okay to turn around. It’s okay to change directions. You can try again.

11. Leaders need great friends:

Conrad lost his mentor, Mugs. He also lost his climbing partner, Alex Lowe, to an avalanche in Tibet. These were hard losses, especially his climbing partner.

Alex and Conrad had been climbing together in Tibet when an avalanche hit. Alex died. Conrad lived.

Conrad had survivor’s guilt. He struggled to push on. But he had a friend, Gil Roberts.

Gil reached out to Conrad. He would constantly call to make sure he was okay. He wouldn’t let Conrad sink into a depression from survivor’s guilt.

To me, it sounds like Gil became Conrad’s pain partner. And every leader needs a pain partner.

You need someone who will stand with you as you walk through the trials of your life. You need someone who will be there when you need comforting. Do you have this person?

12. Trust your team members to make the right call:

Jimmy and Conrad decided they would attempt to summit Meru once more. They wanted their team member Renan to join them on this second attempt.

However, Renan had been injured in an accident. He had a major head injury and the doctors were scared he may not be able to make the climb.

Jimmy and Conrad knew this. They also knew Renan would have to make the final decision on whether or not to climb. They placed their trust in Renan to know himself and make the best choice.

Renan chose to climb with Jimmy and Conrad. He believed he was well enough to climb the mountain. And he did.

You chose your team members. You had faith in them to contribute to your team. But now you might struggle to have the faith they will make the right call.

You can’t continue to doubt your team and expect them to make the right call. You have to have an unwavering faith in them that they will make the right call.

13. Leaders can be a part of other leader’s dreams:

Meru wasn’t always Jimmy or Renan’s dream. However, Meru had been Conrad’s dream for 20 years.

Jimmy and Renan joined Conrad in his dream. They chose to hitch their wagons to his dream and pursue it themselves.

What an accomplishment it was when all three men made it to the summit of the Shark Fin on Meru?!? They did something no other man had done. They made history.

All because they joined up with another and helped him with his dream.

Leaders may think they can only work or be where they’re pursuing their dream. They have to make sure they get their own.

Yet, there can be so much fulfillment in being a part of another leader’s dream. You can still do great things while being a part of a team under someone else.

Don’t think you have to do your own thing to be successful. You can hitch your wagon to another leader’s dream and do things you never imagined.

Question: Have you seen Meru? If you have, what leadership lessons did you take away? If you haven’t seen the movie, what Reel Leadership lessons from Meru did you take away? Share your insights in the comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.