Mar 18, 2023
Vivian James Rigney is a Seven Summits climber, and
author of the book, “Naked at the Knife-Edge: What Everest Taught
Me about Leadership and the Power of Vulnerability.” A Dublin
native, Vivian shares information about his international travels
and how he helps senior executives get past their egos, give up old
habits, embrace vulnerability, and better serve their
organizations. One tool he uses to teach vulnerability draws on his
experience near the summit of Everest, where he learned the
necessity of clarity and purpose. Listen in for insights on
curiosity, peeling back the layers, and getting to the root of
issues, challenges and opportunities.
[2:25] Vivian is from Dublin, Ireland. He studied
business, then traveled the world. He has lived in seven countries,
has visited more than 80 countries, and is now firmly planted in
New York City. Every time he has launched himself in a new place
has been a journey. He has seven books he could write about
restarting in each country.
[3:20] Apart from Ireland and the U.S., Vivian has
lived the longest in Germany. He learned to speak German and French
and he can still speak those languages. He lived in Finland for six
winters, and he “can speak to a two-year-old” in Finnish. Vivian
believes Mandarin and Finnish are the world’s toughest
[4:35] To make high-impact goals, first be very clear
on the goal. Be congruent with the goal. Understand where your
value system comes in. If you’re not fully committed to the goal,
the words may be right but people won’t see it as a clear goal.
[5:16] Never underestimate the power of subtraction. A
list of too many goals diffuses the goals. If you have too many
goals, you’ll fail on some. Be honest with yourself about a core
list of goals. Say no to less important things. People will
understand what the priorities are.
[5:59] Acknowledge progress and celebrate success
along the way. People need KPIs and progress reports. Success is
not easy. In most cases, there has been a lot of toil along the
way. There are people's challenges. So step back and learn from the
things that could be done better next time. It helps people to be
more authentic. It builds a culture of transparency. It changes the
culture for the better.
[7:31] Past guest Simon Sinek stressed, “It’s a
journey. It’s a journey. It’s a journey.” You may never get there.
Sometimes, once you’ve got there, it’s depressing.
[7:59] High-impact goals benefit and serve others as
well as yourself. The people executing the goal do better if they
internalize the goal. You can make it clear to them how the end
customer is helped by the goals. The minimum should be that your
team and people feel connected with the goal. You connect as a
leader with your team on an individual level.
[10:08] On fact and assumption: Vivian recalls Denzel
Washington in The Great Debaters. To be effective leaders we have
to be current. Our nature is to operate from habits. That allows us
to deal with what’s happening around us. But we have to be current,
which means we have to upgrade what we believe. Are we dealing with
information that’s relevant for now or a view we held
[10:50] We may be dealing with strong personalities
who sound very compelling and sound good, but blow hot air and are
not grounded. We constantly have to be asking what is the fact, and
what is the emotion. There is a lot of emotion in the world.
Distill down honestly what is important. Get past the ego that
[11:40] Get feedback. Leaders tend to operate in their
heads. Do we get perspectives on how others see us and experience
us? Their perception is their reality. Use something like a
360-degree survey. Use a sounding board cabinet you can talk to,
being vulnerable and open. Being a leader can be a lonely
existence. Getting feedback can make you more real and current.
[13:58] After getting past your ego, if you want to
bring everyone else in a team to a current reality, Vivian says to
be wildly curious. If you think something is off, ask about the
situation with no judgment but curiosity to get to the facts, layer
by layer, saying “Tell me more about that.” Get everyone to hear
themselves and recalibrate their report if necessary. Drill down
until you land at a point of clarity.
[17:01] Vivian lays out a path for building a culture
of curiosity in your team. After having a conversation about
clarity, ask “What did I do differently today?” You may get
observations like “You listened, you asked a lot of questions.”
This creates shared learning, as people reflect on what you did as
a leader. Ask “How did it make you feel to share more, or as I was
asking more questions?” It’s curiosity with purpose.
[18:40] Vivian shares some knowledge of the Seven
Summits. There is more than one set, with a difference in one of
the peaks selected. The people who have done the harder set number
in the hundreds.
[19:53] With his clients, Vivian uses a metaphor of a
backpack filled with rocks. Letting go of the rocks in your
backpack is letting go of strategies and habits you used in past
roles that are no longer relevant to your senior role. What used to
be ballast is now dead weight. Less is more.
[22:41] Vivian recently talked a senior leader through
the rationale of dialing back his intensity. Asking if it was in
the leader’s DNA to get up late and lounge around, the leader knew
it wasn’t. Being less intense did not mean he would get less done
or lose the respect of his team.
[24:34] There’s a basis of fear that has to be
overcome. Vivian says it’s the fear of changing the status quo and
losing control. Leaders feel they need to stay in control to stay
on top of things. That comes at the cost of intuition. To make
better decisions faster, tap into your intuition. Controlling too
much is slow and inefficient. Releasing control frees you up to
harness the strength you’ve built up over the years.
[25:25] The purpose of a coach is to get the most out
of the person they’re working with. In a business context,
mindfulness is more about letting go of ego and being more
authentic, having more impact through followership.
[27:39] Sometimes we need to shed people. We don’t
choose our family but we do choose the people around us. You want
friends with net positive energy in daily life. You don’t want to
have friends that always take energy from you that you need for
other relationships. We deserve to be able to give to and receive
[30:20] Vivian discusses how to coach somebody to be
“more strategic.” Is it that they are strategic but things get in
the way, or is it that they are more suited to tactics and
execution than strategy? The reality is that they may be in a role
they don’t fit.
[33:07] The top challenges facing senior leaders today
are loneliness, agility, curiosity, and the data to process and use
for faster decisions. The most important thing for leaders today is
leading people of different generations, post-great-resignation
while being authentic.
[36:15] As a leader, you have ownership of how you
recharge and must give the people on your team the same space to
recharge. Recharging means different things for different people.
If you demonstrate that you value recharging, while allowing your
team room to choose how they recharge, it will show your support.
Expect optimal performance from your team in the hours they work
[39:20] People may think that climbing Seven Summits
makes you a wild, competitive animal that attacks things and
figures them out. Vivian writes a detailed story in the book on the
power of vulnerability. Everest was difficult for Vivian. On summit
day, their guide seemed ill and was mumbling that he couldn’t do it
this time. That put Vivian in a dark space with a hugely negative
[40:39] Vivian felt a dark cloud overhead. He believed
he couldn’t get up or down and he was sure he would die there. He
felt a voice come from deep within him, repeating “Why are you
here?” He realized he was climbing to prove himself. The voice
asked why he was proving how strong, good, and successful he is. He
closed his eyes to make peace with his expected demise.
[41:41] Vivian’s sherpa tapped him on the shoulder and
said if they stayed they would die. The sherpa demanded Vivian
follow him. Everywhere the sherpa put his boot, Vivian put his
boot. He thought he was going down, but he suddenly realized the
sherpa was ascending. He followed him to the summit where he
appreciated the view from the top but the cloud was with him until
he got off the mountain.
[42:37] The learning for Vivian was that we have to
know why we’re doing things, not just chasing goals. He appreciates
Everest but he regrets not having more clarity in his goal when he
climbed it. In many cases, we do things without knowing why. Vivian
didn’t need to prove anything. He had already achieved much.
[43:08] As leaders, we have to learn when to let go.
We are enough. Ask, “How do I use what I have?” Vivian shares with
clients his vulnerability and what he learned from it. It induces
them to share their story and they build rapport from that.
Examples like that help us to be real. Life is all about real
experiences. Vivian uses that in his coaching.
[44:26] Vivian’s thoughts about the inner voice he
heard on Everest: “I think that voice is always with us. … We do
have to listen to ourselves, to let go of the noise, and we have to
do that by disarming the ego. … We try to get people wise and
honest themselves, 30, 40 years ahead of the regret, and have
fulfilling times from that point forward.”
[46:10] Vivan wrote Naked at the Knife Edge in New
York City during the COVID-19 pandemic when he felt a vulnerability
similar to the vulnerability he had felt on Mt. Everest in 2010. He
said it was time to write the book. He wrote it in a few months,
then added leadership pieces and reflections to it. It had taken
him 10 years to be ready.
[47:33] Closing quote: Remember, “A life is not
important except in the impact it has on other lives.” — Jackie
“How do you make goals that are
going to be meaningful and resonant? The first thing one has to do
is be very clear on that goal. Be congruent with the goal.
Understand where your value system comes in with this. Why is that?
Because you’re a leader.”
“Never underestimate the power of
subtraction. … People tend to make shopping lists of goals. … A
list that’s too long gets in the way. It diffuses the goals.”
“‘Wildly curious’ means, if you’ve
done the introspection on your own head, which is step number
one, do it with others. … [Go in] without judgment. … Peel back the
layer and say, ‘Tell me more about that.’”
“When they get to senior
leadership levels, … they’re using a lot of tools that they used in
the past to do what they do today. … It’s about letting go of
strategies from the past and habits from the past, which are no
longer relevant. … Less is more.”
“A decent coach’s sole purpose is
not to reinvent the wheel; it’s to get the most out of that person
they’re working with.”
“As a leader, you have to have
ownership of how you recharge and the people under you.”
“In many cases in life, we are
doing things without knowing why we’re doing it. In my case, I was
trying to prove how good I was. How strong I was. But I didn’t need
to prove; I’d already achieved.”
“I think that voice is always with
us. For me, I had chosen not to listen to it earlier, doing
previous things. … We do have to listen to ourselves, we have to
let go of the noise, and we have to do that by disarming the ego
and really letting go.”