ISM World 2023: Conquering Mountains and Using Lessons Learned to Improve

May 10, 2023
By Sue Doerfler

For supply management professionals, all the challenges, uncertainties, relationship-building, strategy-making, risk management — and achievements — of the past few years have been like mountain climbing.

Indeed, as Wednesday’s ISM World 2023 keynote speaker said, “Sometimes things are going to go your way. Sometimes, they’re not. That’s a big part of climbing, and certainly part of (a supply manager’s) job. It’s part of life. But you have to be willing to get out there on these mountains. Push yourself on these peaks, day after day, even when it feels uncomfortable, especially when it feels uncomfortable. You have to be able to weather the storms (to) enjoy the view.”

It's important to remember that storms are always temporary, history-making mountain climber Alison Levine told the audience at the Annual Conference’s Closing General Session on Wednesday at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Conference Center in Grapevine, Texas.

During “Rise Up: Finding Strength and Conquering Challenges in Tough Times,” Levine talked about the lessons learned as team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition in 2002, where she and the team had to turn back several hundred feet from the summit of Mount Everest due to impending storm.

Yes, that was disappointing — and a tough decision. But more importantly, the entire experience, which required altitude acclimation, endurance and strong leadership, taught her valuable lessons that supply management practitioners can easily relate to:

  • “A single person’s judgment can bring down the entire team.”
  • “Backing up is not the same as backing down. … You may have to go backwards a bit to get to where you want to be, so do not look at backtracking as losing ground.”
  • “Fear is OK. Complacency will kill you.”
  • Everyone is a leader. “Leadership is not about title, tenure or how many people report to you, or how big of a budget you oversee. Leadership is about realizing that every single member of the team, regardless of title or tenure, has the responsibility to help that team move toward a goal. Everybody also has the responsibility of looking out for one another.”
  • When working toward a monumental goal, divide the experience into smaller pieces and smaller goals.

Levine, now a consultant and motivational speaker, ultimately reached the summit in 2010, learning more lessons along the way, again ones that supply managers also can take to heart, including that in dynamic environment, even when things feel calm, there is still risk.

She noted that while we can’t control the environment, we can control our reactions to it. For supply managers, that means being proactive, not reactive; taking action, rather than sitting back; embracing “the spirit of innovation” to move forward; and considering failure not as a bad thing, but as a learning experience.

“You have to give yourself and your teams the freedom to fail,” Levine said, “and you never know who will be following in your footsteps and climbing really high mountains and go on to achieve incredible things because of your past experience.”

About the Author

Sue Doerfler

About the Author

As Senior Writer for Inside Supply Management® magazine, I cover topics, trends and issues relating to supply chain management.