Pioneering Isn't Pretty

I always smile when I hear entrepreneurs use sports analogies to talk about their businesses. When you're launching a business that challenges the status quo, there are no referees, no time-outs, no RULES, and no guarantee that someone will "win." You experience excitement felt only by intrepid adventurers doing something for the first time. You're not playing a game; you're pioneering.

Pioneering isn't pretty.

I try to use analogies that capture the raw unruliness of building something brand new. Alpine mountaineering seems to work well. In 2012, I invited accomplished mountaineer Ed Viesturs to speak at HighTower's annual Partnership meeting. Ed has summited all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen. Here are a few elements of that experience that are relevant to business leadership:

•You need a team of brave, intrepid adventurers.

Even the most skilled, athletic mountain climbers don't usually go it alone, and for good reason. Summiting a major peak is dangerous and difficult. Your odds of success are much better if you assemble a team.

At HighTower, I work with some of the finest pioneers in our industry: successful, dedicated, passionate financial advisors who embraced the risk of doing something that others said could not be done. They left stable businesses to build something better for their clients. We're not "playing to win" in a game where the rules are written - we're blazing a trail and forging a new path. HighTower Financial Advisors are true pioneers.

•Your success depends on both strategy and chance.

Growing a business and climbing a mountain require extensive planning and training along with nimbleness and, of course, good luck. You can pore over trail maps and spend months conditioning -- but none of that will stop the avalanche if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. The same is true in business. Leaders must prepare for what they can, and adapt to what they cannot.

•It's a long journey -- set goals along the way.

Most climbers attempting Everest establish several camps en route to the summit. They don't just head right for the top.

In building HighTower, we set our sights on a sequence of specific milestones: opening offices, generating revenue, reaching critical mass, expanding our platform. Between each goal, we weathered unpredictable storms and persevered.

Today, as a profitable and scaling business, we have climbed from aspiration to high base camp, but still have to navigate the remaining camps, the summit and a safe descent.

Onward and upward.

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