Episode 167: Fear & Leadership in the Mountains

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How many times have we been told the story of the fearless leader — in work, in politics, in the mountains? When the stakes are high, it’s natural to place our confidence in strength and certainty. To turn to the leader and believe that they have no doubt, that they’ve built up a kind of resilience that will carry us all to safety.

This episode isn’t about how to become a fearless leader in the mountains. Nor is it about how to overcome your fear, or even how to harness it. But it is about listening to what fear is trying to teach us. It’s an opportunity to consider what kind of leader you need, as well as the one you might want to be.

Lindsey Falkenburg shares the story of her season as a lead for BOEALPS, a mountaineering club in Seattle.

Full transcript available after the photos and resources.

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Featured in this episode: Lindsey Falkenburg, Ashley Abril, and Kristen Jones

Hosted by Gale Straub

Ad music in this episode is by Josh Woodward & Swelling using a Creative Commons attribution license.

Music is also by Gracie & Rachel via Music Bed.

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Featured in this Episode

Lindsey Falkenburg

Ashley Abril

Ashley Abril

Kristen Jones

Kristen Jones

Lindsey’s 2019 BOEALPS Mountaineering Team

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TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

For me, it was really a fear-based progression, but I started the season just being so afraid. Like we would go out on our weekend outings and I’d be like crying, halfway up a mountain being like, I’m not doing this again next weekend. Like I refused to come back out here next weekend. I’m going to be sick. Like, that’s what I would tell myself. And then middle of the week, I would like start to forget a little bit how terrible it was. And then somehow like next weekend would roll around and I would be back out in the mountains, just hating it. They say like good mountaineers have really short memories. That’s like a thing I think that people think. But anyway, the end of the class came and we did our grad climb and I climbed Kulshan without any fear. And it was, I just got to the top and had this realization that I hadn’t been scared even one time. And it was the biggest, like it was a hugely transformative moment for me to realize like how much you can grow through this, just a couple of months.

Gale Straub – Narration:

How many times have we been told the story of the fearless leader — in work, in politics, in the mountains? When the stakes are high, it’s natural to place our confidence in strength and certainty. To turn to the leader and believe that they have no doubt, that they’re built up a kind of resilience that will carry us all to safety. Today’s episode isn’t about how to become a fearless leader in the mountains. Nor is it about how to overcome your fear, or even how to harness it. But it is about listening to what fear is trying to teach us. It’s an opportunity to consider what kind of leader you need, as well as the one you might want to be.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Lindsey Falkenburg reached out to me to share her experience leading a mountaineering course in 2019. You might recognize her from an episode earlier this season about her decision not to thru hike the Continental Divide Trail this season. Lindsey called her experience leading a mountaineering course powerful – a time when she had the opportunity to learn about herself as a leader and as a woman. Before we dive in, Lindsey helped me make a distinction between hiking and mountaineering:

Lindsey Falkenburg:

You know, a lot of people come into the mountaineering course that I instruct, BOEALPS, having hiked a lot and they want to take that next step and they want to get out in the mountains when there isn’t just a clear trail to take then. So I think the biggest difference, you know, when you’re hiking, you are on a trail walking through the woods or the desert or whatever your landscape is. And when you’re mountaineering, you’re really getting off that trail onto either snow, or I think typically we think of it as climbing up through snow and you’re you’re picking routes or lines to climb in order to summit something.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Lindsey first learned how to mountaineer 5 years ago, when she took a class through BOEALPS, a mountaineering club in Seattle. But after that beginner course, there’s still a whole lot more to learn.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

Oftentimes you, you do your first year as a student and then folks come back to instruct. It’s really common for people to come back in and instruct. And we have a couple of different levels of instructors. So usually your first year, when you come back, you’re a junior instructor. Um, and you could be a junior instructor for up to two years. And juniors are really in many ways, glorified students, very focused on cementing their skills and learning how to teach their skills.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

That’s like a big part of what juniors are doing in the field, through like a series of tests and observation by other instructors, you become an associate instructor. Um, if you’ve like passed certain milestones in your climbing experience, and then after you become an associate instructor, you can become a senior instructor. Again, usually requires you to like learn how to trad climb or take your airy like avalanche safety awareness course, or have a wilderness first responder. So you kind of start to have to like build your climbing resume in order to move up through the instructor structure. And then out of that pool of seniors and also associates, I think people are asked to become leads. And so the entire class, you know, we bring in about 60 students every single year and have a ton of instructors and then eight leads because they’re eight teams every single year.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Lindsey followed this path acting as an instructor in 2017 and 2018 honing her skills. The next year in 2019, Sarah, the chief instructor asked Lindsey to step up and act as a lead for the course.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

I was definitely not sure that I wanted to do it. I felt highly under qualified to be a lead considering I had taken the class only a number of years beforehand. I hadn’t been an instructor for all that long. And it was very intimidating to me. I had a lot of that imposter syndrome going on where I was like, I don’t know if I’m ready for this, but ultimately I feel like I’m pretty outspoken about meeting more female leadership in BOEALPS and needing more female instructors at the, at the senior and lead level. And in the end it was one of those moments where I was like, okay, okay, Lindsey, like you, you can’t constantly ask for that. And then when you get the opportunity to step up and do it say no. So, so yeah, I definitely was like, well, time to walk the walk and just do the thing that, that I’m always asking for.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Lindsay ended up being the only female lead that season in certain ways that made her unique skills more salient as she looks back.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

It’s, you know, it’s so interesting. Mountaineering is such a technical sport. There are so many skills that you have to know and you have to know them really, really well. And that was what I felt nervous about bringing to the table because I hadn’t been mountaineering that long. I hadn’t gone and done all these like big objectives. You know, I’d like just started trad climbing. I was really like worried about the technical skills that I was going to bring to the table. And sure enough, a lot of what the eight leads have a meeting before all the other instructors arrive on Wednesday nights. And a lot of those meetings are about really getting down to brass tacks on like, do we really need to extend the repel?

Lindsey Falkenburg:

Where should we put the like auto block? You know, like a lot of these like very technical questions. And those conversations definitely had me feeling very outside of my comfort zone, but I, I think what I really learned through the experience was that there are a lot of other things that I could bring to the table that provided really strong leadership for my students and my instructors on my personal team and provided a really different perspective in those leads meetings around inclusivity and, you know, servant style leadership and fear and just, yeah, you know, all the, all the things that I think I was bringing from more of a soft skills perspective, I think were ultimately really valuable to the larger group. And I’m glad that I had the opportunity to, to be in that room and kind of voice a different perspective.

Gale Straub – Narration:

A BOEALPS basic mountaineering course lasts about three to four months starting in February and ending in June. You learn in the classroom as well as in the field.

Gale Straub:

What was the first outing?

Lindsey Falkenburg:

We do these clinics style outings before we get put on our teams. But our first team outing is this outing to Stevens Pass. And we don’t really climb them out. I mean, we summit this like tiny little mountain on that climb, but that’s only for them to like work on some different rope travel skills, but that whole outing is really focused on basically snow travel. Like how do you kick steps? How do you plunge step? How do you do ice ax arrests… these like very basic skills that we need them to know before we can take them up, anything more challenging. And I love that outing because the students know nothing like they, that it’s so cool to see. They don’t know how to walk on snow. You know, they, they flounder up a mountain, they flounder back down. And even through the course of that one outing, you can see them progress and learn a lot.

Gale Straub – Narration:

As a leader, Lindsey loves to think about how her students will feel at the end of the course. She reflects back to the end of her first course when she pushed through fear and felt the accomplishment of standing on top of Mount Kulshan.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

This is why I loved being an instructor and why I really loved being a lead because you really get to see where people start. And because you’ve been through the class so many times, you know, where they’re going to finish and it’s so inspiring to see them on that first outing and think like, Oh my God, like a couple of months from now, you’re going to be summiting Kulshan, you’re going to be climbing a giant mountain in Washington with crevasses, and you’re going to have your crampons on. And it’s just going to be so far from where you are right now. And I just think that’s so cool.

Gale Straub – Narration:

When Lindsey thinks about the 2019 season, a couple of students stand out. One is Ashley.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

Ashley, definitely. We started off the year and I was like, Oh, this chick is awesome. She’s just like super spunky and sassy. And just brought this like really fun energy to the group. I just like loved immediately. She was on our team and on our second outing, which is the outing is really focused on navigation. We climbed Kendall peak up in the Snoqualmie area and Ashley and I, I think I saw a lot of myself and Ashley, but she actually was coming into the class really in a different place than I came into the class. When I was a student, she came into the class with a lot of demons around mountaineering and around climbing and around fear. She’d had some like legitimately really scary experiences that would, that would put anybody in this kind of very delicate Headspace,.

Gale Straub – Narration:

But you don’t have to take it from Lindsey, I got in touch with Ashley last winter.

Ashley Abril:

Okay. Got it. Yes, there are headphones. Okay, great.

Gale Straub:

Well, I’m recording you sound fantastic. So what initially attracted you to learning how to Mountaineer?

Ashley Abril:

Um, so I had got into it by accident. I was, uh, I was traveling in Guatemala and I decided to go hike this volcano with some friends. And so I did this big hike and was feeling pretty great about myself. Cause I was like, wow, I just climbed 5,000 feet in the rain. And I slept overnight and I was totally unprepared and I survived. Okay, what challenge can I take on next? And I had moved to Seattle in July of 2017 and I was like, Oh, I know I’ll just go and hike up Mount Rainier because that’s what I thought. I thought Mount Rainier was like a big hike just in snow.

Ashley Abril:

Cause you could see snow from the city. Uh, so I signed up to climb with RMI and then at one point I was like, Oh, I should probably look at this gear list. I started to realize, Oh, this wasn’t a hike. This was something completely different. Something that required an ice ax. Like what is this sport? Anyways, at that point I had signed up to climb Mount Rainier. So I was like, okay, I’m just going to do it. Like I just have to take it one step at a time is like what I read on a blog. So I was like, alright, I can do this. So that’s what basically got me into the world of non-interfering one step at a time. That’s an often used phrase in the outdoors, but sometimes it’s just not that easy.

Gale Straub:

I asked Ashley what her expectations were going into the BOEALPS class. It turns out her expectations were colored by the experience she had climbing Mount Rainier.

Ashley Abril:

Uh, honestly I was a little like, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to finish this course. So Andre in year we would get up to Camp Muir and it’s like pretty good. It’s just like a long hike. And then you put on crampons and you start getting into like glacier terrain. And I was like, Oh my God, this glacier stuff is just, it’s too much. It’s like, I felt like my body was like in like, I dunno, shock for 12 hours. Cause that’s how long it took from camp mere up to the summit. And back, I remember I was at Ankrom flats and I was talking to the guide and he was like, I was like, Oh, I just can’t wait to get to camp near. And he’s like, yeah, well, like you still have to descend 4,500 feet. And I’m like, yes, JT.

Ashley Abril:

But if I fall, I don’t fall to my death. I fall on snow and it’s fine. I just get back up. And so going into the course, I was already a little hesitant cause I was like, I don’t, I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get lowered into a curl boss. I don’t know how I’m going to handle that. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to even get lowered in. And I was like, okay, just take it class by class. And you know, once we get into the glacier, like we’ll figure it out. And so that’s kind of like what my expectation going in to the class was that I was already kind of like hesitant. I was excited. I was hoping, okay. Maybe like, you know, I’ll get over this hurdle and I’ll just find this love for mountaineering that so many people enjoy.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Ashley first went out with Lindsey as a lead on that trip to Stevens Pass.

Ashley Abril:

She was just very relatable. The kind of person that like, I definitely went home and like went on Instagram and was like, Oh my God, I want to see every picture. And every post, I want to see what she does. Cause she’s just great. Easy to talk to. And I could see like, I think throughout the class, like the difficulty of managing different levels, some people that are just like, Oh, this is super easy that they lead rock climbing just don’t have any fear. And then there’s other people that you’re like, Oh man, you know that person’s struggling. Like just like very different levels on the team. And I think she struggled but also manage the team very well. Um, I could see her like kind of trying to put everyone together and um, I don’t know, just make everyone feel comfortable with voicing their opinions. And I don’t know, just like a really good, positive female role model that I was really happy to be around.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Lindsey was a level headed, comforting presence who balanced the needs of a whole group with a smile. But that fear that she felt as a first year student, it didn’t totally go away.

Gale Straub – Narration:

More on fear and leadership after the break.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back before the break, I was talking to Ashley about the confidence Lindsey imparted as a leader on the mountain, but I had to ask Lindsey…

Gale Straub:

Fear still creeps in though? It’s not like it magically went away. That last…

Lindsey Falkenburg:

No, absolutely not. I, um, I think, you know, and I was asked to be a lead one of the things at first though that made me think I couldn’t do it is because I’m still afraid a lot of the time and maybe it’s cause I, I climb with a lot of guys and they don’t seem to ever be afraid. And I’m very vocal about my fears that it, maybe it just feels like I’m afraid a lot of the time because of the comparison, but I am definitely still afraid when I go out into the mountains. And at first I thought that that was gonna make me a bad lead. I was like, I can’t be a lead I’m I’m just as scared as they are, you know, but I definitely came to realize that it was actually, it could be a huge benefit to myself and to my students if I could be vulnerable about it, because I think I could have used that when I was a student, just knowing that someone who I admired and respected and looked up to and who seemed like really confident, actually it was also afraid that can buoy a team, you know, or it can buoy a person who’s really having a hard time.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Lindsay saw this play out on the mountain, which brings us back to Ashley who felt challenged by overwhelming fear of the mountaineering course. And if you haven’t felt that kind of fear on the mountains, you’ll hear its impact in Ashley’s voice.

Ashley Abril:

On Kendall peak. Our third climb, I like broke down. I just even thinking about it. I’m still working down. Sorry. It’s okay. Okay. Anyways. Um, yeah, I just like broke down and um, she just like walked me through everything and it’s just the air and it was really empathetic and I think she could relate a lot to like the fear that I was feeling apparently like steep slopes just really get me. And I’m just like, Oh my God, I don’t know how I’m going to get off this thing. And I remember her, I was doing like an arm repel down and she was just like literally walking down with me and cause she was clenched up and I was just like on the arm repel, she was just like talking me through and just like asking me like, Oh, so like what else do you like to do for fun?

Ashley Abril:

And she was telling me about how she did the Pacific crest trail and the Appalachian trail. And just trying to like, not let me focus on the fact that I was like on a rope in like a very steep area that like at the end was like a cliff. So I think she could relate. Cause she like told me she was like, yeah, I before was very afraid of this. And she like really conquered her fear with mountaineering. And so I think she really tried to help me get over that fear and could really relate.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

And so on Kendall and, and I think up at Stevens, there was some steep snow and, and I think that definitely really scared her and, and it was hard for her and on Kendall I could see she was uncomfortable and, and you know, I think we did our best to have an instructor with her and really coaching her through the skills and helping her feel safe and comfortable. But ultimately she and I ended up having like a, a pretty like intense conversation on that outing where she really shared with me like what she was bringing to the table in terms of her previous experiences and, and what was kind of stuck in her cry and really kind of weighing her down. And, and that was kind of the beginning of this back and forth conversation that she and I had where she’d be like, I’m afraid.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

And I’d be like, I was also afraid, but look where I am now you can do this. Like, and, and you know, to me, that was like, that was my nugget that I had that maybe other people didn’t have was that I had fear and I could empathize and I still was afraid. And, but I was like pushing through and that fear, you didn’t need to like, overcome your fear to Mountaineer. You just had to learn how to manage it. And that was like a conversation that I, that she and I had a lot and a point I really tried to get across to her basically every week I would get an email or a text from her being like, I don’t think I can do it this weekend. And I’d be like, yes, you can, like, we’re going to do this together. It’s going to be okay. You know, and we would talk through the whole thing again.

Ashley Abril:

Uh, Lindsay is just like the type of person that you just immediately like, feel comfortable and just feel like, let me tell you my life story. And so I just like completely opened up to her about like you had been in this like accident in the enchantments the previous year. And so, uh, I had a lot of, I wasn’t in the accident my friend was, and so I had a lot of guilt and just a lot of pent up things. And so you just like really helped me. I don’t know, just talk it through it. And, uh, she listened and at the end, I don’t know, just really made me feel like it was okay. And like, I could feel what I was feeling.

Gale Straub:

When did you realize that the course wasn’t something that you wanted to continue with?

Ashley Abril:

Uh, well actually, so I, Kendall peak, I was like, I don’t think I’m going to come back. And she was like, give it another like, class, like give it another shot with the main word that the main phrase that like kind of stood with me was like, don’t quit on a bad day. That’s what she told me. So I was like, okay, all right. I just can’t quit on a bad day. I just have to keep coming back. And so the moment I knew that this the class just like wasn’t for me was on the summit of Mt. Saint Helen’s. So I had for a, we had a week off, I think for Easter and a couple of friends and I went, and we did not say in Helen’s. And there was times when I was scared on Mount St Helen’s, but it was a different kind of feeling.

Ashley Abril:

It was like something I could push through. And then I got to the top and I just like looked at my friends and I was like, yeah, I’m done with BOEALPS. Like I can’t, I’m done like this, this, what I did today was like where my boundaries are and I enjoyed it. I am happy. I’m smiling. But like, when I do BOEALPS stuff, it’s just too much. I don’t look forward to it. I have to wake up super early, which I don’t mind doing when I go and do something I love. But like, when you’re waking up that early to go do something you’re terrified to then as you’re doing it, you’re terrified. And then when you get off, you’re terrified and then you get back to the car. You’re like, Oh God, okay. I survived. But you’re not, I never felt that like joy that I felt, um, in the outdoors. And so that’s the moment when I was like, okay, I’m done this class. Just isn’t for me.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

I was having this really hard time where I wanted to respect her and her ability to know herself and her ability to know when enough was enough. And I also wanted to push her to finish the class. And so that was really hard for me to finally be like, okay, like if you don’t, I’m not going to force you to go into the mountains. Like, you don’t have to be a Mountaineer. It’s totally fine. But it was, it was definitely really hard for me. And I think part of what was hard was that it felt like this was like the one thing that I was like, Ooh, if I can figure out how to like, leverage my experience with fear, to help other people who are afraid, that’s a powerful tool. And the fact that it didn’t work was, was really hard for me. And I just sucked.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

I was like, darn it. Like, this is the thing that I had. And I wasn’t, I don’t know if it was that I, it was never going to work to use it with Ashley or if I didn’t do it correctly, like if there was a better way that I could have leveraged that experience to help her or what, but it was definitely really, really hard for me. And of course everyone was like, Lindsey, this is not your fault. You know, like everybody’s on their own path in the mountains, but it, it definitely felt to me, like I could have maybe done more at the time.

Gale Straub:

So, so what would success look like to you?

Lindsey Falkenburg:

I mean, yeah, I think success would have looked like, I guess what I went through, like, it would’ve looked like hurt at some point going on a climb and being like, Oh, I wasn’t afraid, you know, or just like having worked through, um, her fear in a way where she recognized where she had been at the beginning and where she ended and that there had been growth.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

Like, to me, that is success is just recognizing your own growth. And I, I, I honestly think she did recognize her own growth. And like she, cause when she started the class and when she ended the class, there was a lot, there was a big growth there. And so maybe finishing the class is not necessarily what success looks like. I don’t think it’s necessary to finish the class, but I, I do, you know, Gale, that’s a really good question because the success is just her figuring out what matters to her. And so she was successful probably in many ways, she like made a decision and her decision was that it wasn’t worth it, you know? And maybe that is that’s success. Yeah. I think that probably is success.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Sometimes leadership is letting go of your own expectations of what a student should want. Ashley had stood on the top of Mount St. Helen’s and found joy in being there. Rather than pushing her limits, she listened to them.

Ashley Abril:

I don’t know, just like I like taking on challenges, but I think after this BOEALPS thing of kind of like, okay, like you don’t necessarily have to do every challenge. Just try to find things that you enjoy.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’ll hear from another of Lindsay’s mountaineering students who had an entirely different take on Lindsey’s leadership style after this.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back.

Gale Straub:

When, when you said that you felt that you were more vocal than like male climbing partners, how does that come out and how does it come out when you’re a lead? Like what, what does that sound like?

Lindsey Falkenburg:

I think when I’m with, when I’m climbing with my peers, it comes out in that I just really focalized what’s what’s freaking me out like, Hey, what do we think about this?

Lindsey Falkenburg:

Snow slope seems a little unstable or like there’s a rockfall evidence over there. How does everybody feel about that? Like, I think I just really liked to like have the conversation about things. And I want everybody to know that I’m afraid, which I think is really important. This is that idea of heuristics like that, you know, we should all be voicing, like what are our internal assumptions are what’s going on in our heads and in our bodies when we’re out in the mountains. So that we’re all on the same page. Cause sometimes if you are assuming something about somebody else, like, Oh my climbing partners, aren’t scared, therefore everything must be all right, because I trust them. And I think they’re good in the mountains that can get you into a lot of trouble. And so I’m like of the mind of like, we should just be really vocalizing how we all feel all the time while we’re out here so that no one is assuming anything about anybody else.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

I think that’s really important. And I definitely like brought that to my team. You know, I really wanted everybody to be vocal and to be speaking out loud what their thoughts were, which was good. I think in a lot of ways. And I tried to model that behavior by talking out like, you know, like, Hey, here’s this objective hazard that we’re seeing. Here’s why I think it feels safe right now. Or here’s why it makes me feel a little bit afraid and nervous. And here’s how we’re going to manage that risk. You know? And I think we saw that play out in a lot of cool ways. We had this climb later in the season up to, um, unicorn, which is in the [inaudible] range near down by Mount Rainier, by Tahoma and the students, you know, there’s this like pretty steep goalie. And they all were like, why is this safe?

Lindsey Falkenburg:

You know, like this makes us nervous. We don’t like it. And it was a great learning opportunity for those of us who have taken our Aerie course and understand avalanche conditions to be like, yeah, totally. You like see a steep snow slope and you think danger, that’s good. Cause that’s your level of experience right now. Here’s what we’re seeing through our eyes, which have more knowledge than yours do. And let us explain why this feels safe to us and why we are not afraid. And I think that ability to be vocal and create a space in which people can really easily ask questions and not feel belittled or demeaned that creates an environment in which everybody can really learn from each other and continue to calibrate their fear to the situation that they’re in.

Gale Straub:

I love that, you know, the stereotype around fear is that it’s, it puts you into like a paralysis mode, but for you in teaching and in being a Mountaineer, it is something that often propels you forward.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

Definitely. Yeah. I think it can be really an incredibly valuable emotion.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Some of what Lindsay learned about fear and leadership came to her throughout the course. And some of it came to her after imposter syndrome snuck in. She worried at times that her fear showed through in a way that was detrimental to her students. So she was pretty surprised by the reaction Kristen, the next student we’ll hear from, had to her leadership style.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

Kristen was a really good climber like her skill level and her fitness, everything. She just was a good climber. So I think in many ways that caused me to just be like, she’s fine. She’s doing great. Look at her. She’s like rocking this.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Kristen is a mother of three who took the course with her husband. She shared with me that though she had to spend time away from her kids to complete the course in a lot of ways she was doing it for them to show them what was possible, despite fear.

Kristen Jones:

So the reason I did this class was because of fear. So I going into it, um, I was afraid of exposed heights. My hands would sweat. I get kind of panicky feeling. I was definitely afraid of crevasses. I really want it to go to Mount Rainier, but I knew that there were giant crevasses up there and I didn’t know how to deal with that. I hate being cold. There were just a lot of things and that is the reason I did this class because I did not want fear and anxiety to dictate my yesses and nos in life.

Kristen Jones:

I want to make choices based on what sounds amazing, what sounds interesting. And I don’t want to be limited by what, what my fear says. And so that’s the reason I did this class and every day, every outing, it was leaning into that fear. So in one way or the other, I was way out of my comfort zone. So it really stretched me in that. And I think that that’s ultimately what I took away from. It was the ability to really face, fear in the face and lean into that and just kind of watch that crumble, um, with, with practice.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Kristen gravitated towards Lindsay’s leadership style.

Kristen Jones:

My first outing in BOEALPS, all the instructors were there. And I just remember seeing some of the male instructors and seeing them interact with students and just kind of seeing a little bit of arrogance, not all of that, but just in the field, see more of a dictatorial leadership style.

Kristen Jones:

And then I remember I seen Lindsey at one of the stations and she just made everything really fun and accessible and we just felt like everyone was included and encouraged at that station. And I just remember seeing her and thinking, Oh, that would be really cool if we had her as an instructor and thinking that if some of these other guys were our instructors, I would probably feel a little more intimidated and maybe not thrive as well under that kind of leadership. So I was really pleased to see that we were placed with Lindsay’s group and she’s just really confident, but not arrogant. She just lets everybody have a seat at the table. She, everybody let everybody kind of have a say in trip planning. Even if our ideas were kind of out of the box, he included everybody’s thoughts and allowed everybody to have a say, she didn’t try to control the group or the situation.

Kristen Jones:

And she was really calm under pressure. We had a few situations where she needed to do some decision making and she did really well. And what’s really calm because you can’t control everything that happens in the mountains. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong and she was just really level headed, which wasn’t a really good thing that helped make us all feel really safe.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Kristen’s impressions of Lindsey and the mountains ran counter to the fact that Lindsey still felt fear as a leader.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

After we had climbed Kulshan after the grad climb, we were back at the cars and doing kind of our final reflection about the class. And she shared, she shared that she’d read my Instagram posts that I’d put up right before our grad climb, where I had shared again, like this was such a big experience for me. And I had been so fearful as a student and kind of overcome all this fear and I still felt afraid in the mountains, but it was so different now. And I’d had a reflection on my own fear experience. And she, she basically, during this reflection was like, you know, I read that and I was kind of surprised because I had no idea you were ever afraid. You strike me as like totally unflappable and confident at all times. And I was like, what?

Kristen Jones:

And I was like, Whoa, wait a minute. You felt like that. I was kind of wish she would have told us that before, because that’s how I felt most of it. I mean, I wasn’t crying, but on the inside sometimes I felt like I was crying. And so I just really surprised me. So I guess it was a good lesson when you continually push into your fear, what can happen and you can still, you can still be a good leader and you can still do these things. And a good, healthy amount of fear is probably a good thing too.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

And it was that moment where I was like, Oh right. I was super vulnerable with certain people on the team who I felt like needed it. But when I think about how I was for the rest of the team, I, I probably was projecting like complete confidence because for one, I felt like my instructors, I wanted my instructors to see me that way. I wanted them to respect me and to trust me. And like, I want it to be like a pillar of strength for them. And I want it to be that for my students too. And I also think actually being in the mountains with students and being in charge of a team did help me overcome other fears that I had had been unable to work at in the past simply because I like had to be in charge. You know, it really kind of forced me into that position of responsibility where I had really no other option, but to be like calm and collected at all times, you know?

Lindsey Falkenburg:

So it was really interesting to hear that reflected in her comment and she, the way she said it, she wasn’t like, she was like, you know, and that was helpful. It was like, I always really trusted you and, um, looked up to you because you were so confident, but she, she also said she was like, you know, it would have been nice for me sometimes to know that you were afraid. And it was just that really good reminder for me that like, I think vulnerability is always a virtue, you know, I think it always reflects well on you as a leader and onto the people that you’re leading when you’re vulnerable with them and honest with them about how you’re feeling. And it’s, it’s just funny that you can learn those things at like any time, you know, I learned that on like the last day that we were and, uh, I will definitely like carry that forward with me into the future.

Gale Straub:

Yeah. Because there are these conceptions that we have of what it means to be a leader, like what it means to be in charge. And I’m sure that is amplified in the mountains.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

Oh yeah. No, it’s so true.

Gale Straub – Narration:

So what does it mean to be a leader? Well, it depends who you are, depends who you’re leading. We really do ourselves a disservice by thinking that there’s just one way to do it. From what I can see for Lindsay, it means leading with empathy, listening to our students and taking their opinions into consideration. It means knowing she doesn’t have it all figured out and not pretending to either it means making tough decisions. And it means being afraid sometimes.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

I mean, my fear still creeps in all the time. It’s there constantly. And I don’t even think that’s a bad thing. I think it makes me more risk adverse and more careful, and just more aware of my surroundings in the mountains, because my fear is kind of, there talking to me and if I can figure out how to listen to it when I need to, and also how to kind of quiet it when I need to, um, be focused on other things, I think it can be a really powerful tool.

Gale Straub – Narration:

2015 was Lindsey’s first grad summit as a student, when she forgot to be afraid, four years later as a lead top Mount Kolshun, she found herself with a whole new perspective.

Lindsey Falkenburg:

Oh man. You know, it’s funny, as I remember vividly what it looked like when I was a student, it was like the most gorgeous, like the sun was just coming up and it was golden. Like everything was like yellow. It was so beautiful. I literally cried. It was so beautiful. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. But honestly, when we summitted Kolshun as a lead, all I could see was my students and like how tired they all were and like stoked. And I like, that was all I could look at was like my team. I was just so proud of them. Um, so yeah, that was definitely like, I don’t even remember. I don’t remember what, what anything looked like that day, except for, except for them.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Maybe that’s a bit of what leadership is all about too.

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