What do business leaders in the promotional products industry share in common with scaling Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro and Antarctica’s Mount Vincent? Though promo professionals don’t necessarily face life-threatening situations in their jobs, a single decision could make or break their businesses. How they react is rooted in their mindset, self-esteem and preparation, said John Beede, whose keynote presentation opened the first day of PPAI’s 2019 North American Leadership Conference in Irving, Texas.

Beede, who dubs himself “The Climber Guy,” is an entrepreneur, author, humanitarian, keynote speaker and adventurist, having climbed the tallest mountain on every continent and survived some of the planet’s most unforgiving conditions, including hurricanes, earthquakes, avalanches, tribal warfare and being struck by lightning. With more than a few stories to tell, Beede has shared his awe-inspiring experiences on media outlets, such as 60 Minutes and The Weather Channel, and has presented to more than one million audience members worldwide. Beede’s talk, Leadership Lessons From Mount Everest, centered on resilience strategies that helped him scale the world’s highest peaks and how professionals can apply these same strategies to be more effective, confident and daring in their businesses. He opened his talk with a series of ice-breakers, encouraging attendees to form connections and escape their comfort zones, with a greater message of having “the courage to play in the unknown.”

During one exercise, attendees were asked to turn to another and pretend they were greeting a relative, and during another they were asked to celebrate the win of their favorite sports team. The conference roam roared with laughter and animation, quickly quieting down once the 90-second exercise was over. Beede then reminded attendees that for just a brief moment, they looked deep within to apply their full emotion to the situation, whether it was simulated or not—and they all have the capacity to do just that in their businesses. For example, when entering a sales meeting that you’re not feeling confident about, he said, it’s possible to look within and extract this emotion and energy to bring your best effort, if only temporary.

Beede then segued into two other important skills: the ability to be “your own guru” and develop “a growth versus a static mindset.” “Whenever someone tries to teach you something, it’s what worked for them,” he says. “Take what you learn from others and synthesize what works for you.” Beede explained this lesson in the context of trying on clothing in a store. “Try it on and if it doesn’t work, put it back on the shelf, go on with your life, and now you know better about what doesn’t work for you.” Though people enjoy passing on tried-and-true strategies that have proven effective in their lives, there isn’t a universal, one-size-fits-all method to addressing client needs and running an effective business in the promotional products industry. Next, he explained that people restrict themselves and others by identifying as a single, static self. “Some people think, ‘I’ve graduated from high school and university, and now that’s who I am and I’m going to be that person until the day I die.’” That’s a static mindset, he said, and professionals should see themselves and their teams as being on a scale to which there is no end, which encourages ongoing effort and widening personal goals that push the needle further.

Sprinkling his talk with climbing stories bolstered by awe-inspiring photographs and videos from his expeditions, he segued into the next part of the presentation with the analogy: “The mountains will never lower themselves to your level. You must rise up to the demand presented to you by the climb.” Connecting to the promotional products industry, Beede explained that pressure from competition and demands to remain innovative will never cease, but instead of complaining or worrying, the focus should be solution-based. And what do high-altitude leaders do when faced with a problem? First, he says, they fill their own cups before tending to anyone else’s; this was the first of three takeaways identified as traits to keep in one’s professional toolkit. Society communicates a message, he says, that looking after one’s self first is selfish, when it’s really quite the opposite. If you’re not recharged, he told the audience, you won’t be able to tend to the needs of others—or your business—most effectively. We all use cell phones every day, and after a day of use, we’re required to charge them for the next day. We’re no different, he says. And no matter how busy someone is in their business, an easy strategy is to follow the process of hydrate (drink water), rotate (physical activity), meditate and acknowledge appreciation for various aspects of life.

He went on to explain a crucial component of the first toolkit: getting better at saying ‘no.’ “If you want to protect your time, your energy and your efforts, the skill is to have radical boundaries.” This also includes growing comfortable with the prospect of failure, but refraining from fixation. As part of his mountain-climbing training, Beede climbed cliffs (while harnessed) and practiced the “the art of letting go”—or purposely falling. The first 100 times he fell, the falls were painful due to his body being tense, and his constant worrying over whether the equipment would snap and whether he’d be safe. The second 100 times, he was more relaxed, and by the third set of 100 falls, he felt entirely at peace. “I practiced what I would do at the point of failure if it came,” he says.

Beede’s second toolkit trait is to combine presence, being in the zone and preparation. Being in the zone, he said, requires a set of diverse strategies that can be used and extracted when needed. “High-altitude leaders have situational awareness,” he said. In business, a high degree of situational awareness can help promo professionals develop a profound understanding of their product, targeted markets, client and recipient needs, in addition to how the end user feels about the product and the emotions it evokes. “If you can see that in other people—see what emotions a pen bring up or a book brings up, whatever your thing is—you can direct a conversation toward it or away from it.” He closed the session with his third and final toolkit takeaway: sell what others need. “If you’re right, they buy, if not, they won’t.” But in order to achieve the third toolkit, it is essential to master the first two.

For Beede, and promo professionals alike, all action starts with “one impossible step”—a reference made throughout his talk referring to connecting the physical challenges when climbing, as well as challenges in business. Each step may seem more impossible than the next, but once you look back on the progress made, he says, you’ll see that you’re capable of great things.