When you’re running a high-stakes mission, it’s tempting to tell people what to do (and not do). As the leader, you figure it’s your job to keep the team focused.
For Tommy Caldwell, however, leading sometimes involves stepping back and withholding judgment—even when he disapproves of a teammate’s behavior.
Caldwell, 39, is among the world’s most acclaimed rock climbers. In late 2014, he joined Kevin Jorgeson to free climb El Capitan’s steepest face—called the Dawn Wall—in California’s Yosemite National Park.
In the midst of their harrowing climb, Caldwell noticed that Jorgeson had reached for his smartphone from his backpack. Caldwell watched in stunned disbelief as Jorgeson started typing.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Updating Twitter,” Jorgeson replied. (Ironically, cell reception on El Capitan is excellent.)
Caldwell fretted that his climbing partner was diverting his attention from a treacherous ascent for the sake of social media. But he stayed silent.
“Before I could say anything I clued in to the hypocrisy of my thoughts,” Caldwell recalls. “If this is the modern way, best not to be a Luddite.”
In the following days, Caldwell marveled at how Jorgeson’s Twitter feed had created a groundswell on excitement among fans around the world. He realized that a “virtual stadium of people” was rooting for them to complete the climb. And that provided an extra dose of positive motivation.
Caldwell’s ability to check his impulses—and not bark at Jorgeson for tweeting during their climb—proved wise. The pair became the first two climbers to free climb the Dawn Wall successfully.
— Adapted from The Push, Tommy Caldwell, Viking.