Learning outcomes for practitioners from climbing Passo Dello Stelvio

By Scott Charlton

I’ve recently returned from a cycling trip to Italy, which was a great success. Along the way, I found some ready analogies with the journey my coaching clients undertake. As it happened, there was plenty of time for reflection as I settled in for two to three hours of unrelenting incline on many of the mountains we tackled. I hope the thoughts accumulated during this endeavour prove helpful to accounting and financial planning practitioners.

At the outset
Firstly, it’s appropriate to face reality. When setting out on a grand endeavour, one must accept that there will be times when the going gets tough. Accordingly, it’s prudent to develop some strategies ahead of time to deal with the inevitable challenges.

This is especially the case when the support vehicle has already gone on ahead and/or the evening’s hotel is located on the other side of the mountain!

Be it for these reasons or simply that you are determined to achieve a goal, it’s helpful to be prepared for the tough moments.

Overcoming predictable challenges
So, the message is to be ready for when inevitably you are going to feel uncomfortable. This is the time, if your body had its way, that you would cease the activity and advance no further.

At this point, I found it possible to mentally step back and consider what specifically was being experienced and determine the best remedy, while continuing to pedal and make progress.

Here is the simple diagnosis system that I employed.

  1. Overworked legs making themselves felt. Drop down to an easier gear and spin more freely for a while. The lower gears are there for a reason, so use them. Progress might be slower but it’s still progress.
  2. Heart rate getting up to maximum level. This level of output is not sustainable. Look to slow one’s breathing to help bring that heart rate back down again.
  3. Hunger flat. Having burned off breakfast, the body is needing more fuel. Ideally, this should have been prevented by munching on some snacks along the way. However, if you reach this point, then start with an energy gel for an instant fix, followed by a muesli bar or banana to prolong the revival.
  4. Numb bum. Long periods at the same activity cause discomfort. Change up a few gears, get out of the saddle and push hard. These efforts can’t be sustained for long but they improve circulation and lift the average speed.
  5. No rhythm. One feels out of sorts and senses a distinct lack of progress. Often this comes from going too slowly. Move ahead of others in front who are slowing you down, to go at your own, more sustainable pace.
  6. Self-doubt. Teaming up with a riding buddy or even just engaging in a cheery exchange with another cyclist on the same journey can provide a great mental boost.
  7. Need a rest. Sometimes a quick break, perhaps coinciding with a photo stop or simply soaking up the view, is the right action. Don’t pause for too long though, as you are at risk of muscles stiffening up.

Interestingly, there are similarly predictable situations which can arise with the professional practices with whom I work.

  1. Taking on too much personally (Legs). Utilise your team more. In some cases this will entail making internal appointments – perhaps a Factory Manager, a GM or a client service manager. For some, a new recruit such as a part time projects officer or marketing assistant bolsters capability in an area where more resource is required.
  2. Taking on too many projects at once (Heart rate). Whilst this enthusiasm is admirable, it leads to burning out and not actually getting anything accomplished. Back off the number of projects and focus on getting the most important ones implemented.
  3. Losing momentum (Hunger flat). Accomplishing the objectives in your three-year business plan is a long term undertaking and it’s easy to become discouraged. Break the plan down into 90 day blocks and focus on achieving a mini plan within each of these blocks. These progressive improvements will keep you on a roll.
  4. Stuck between the way the firm used to work and how you’d like it to be (Numb bum). Rather than grinding it out in limbo land, there’s benefit in pushing harder during intense bursts. For example, book yourself a Creative Week out of the office, devoted exclusively to developing a new service, accompanying systems and marketing material.
  5. No progress because insufficient attention has been devoted to working on the business (Rhythm). Take charge of your diary, devoting time each week to implement your business improvement projects.
  6. Loss of focus (Self-doubt). Teaming up with a peer group for support and encouragement can work wonders, especially when this involves mutual accountability.
  7. Acknowledge achievements along the way (Rest). Before charging onto the next project or revenue target, take a moment to enjoy what has been accomplished. Our most successful firms combine milestones with celebratory team dinners and/or incentive plans.

It’s remarkable how, upon reaching the summit, all tiredness seemingly leaves the body, to be replaced by a wonderful sense of achievement. Certainly, it’s great to savour the views from the top whilst soaking up the atmosphere.

Upon reflection
Even when the going gets very tough, it’s almost always possible to complete one more pedal stroke. Keep doing this for long enough and even the highest mountain is within reach. As a famous Australian cyclist from yesteryear used to say, “Every time a pedal comes up, I push it down again”.

Of course, being adequately prepared and equipped is a prerequisite, along with a burning desire to succeed. And insights from others who already know the terrain are profoundly helpful – on my trip this came from the guides whose role it was to advise, encourage and otherwise support the endeavour. I certainly appreciated their contribution, given how closely it aligned with the coaching I provide to the accounting and financial planning firms I work with.

By following these simple strategies I was able to complete all of the challenges that my trip entailed, whilst thoroughly enjoying the experience.

As mentioned at the outset, I hope that these insights will prove encouraging for practitioners who are set on reaching new heights.

Scott Charlton is a director of Slipstream Coaching, a company dedicated to assisting financial practitioners achieve their full potential. A long term business coach to both accountants and financial planners, Scott is also the author of three books regarding professionals in practice. Scott can be contacted by phone 0409 870 330 or via email ua.moc.gnihcaocmaertspils@ttocs

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