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What the best bosses can learn from mountain ski guides

January 11, 2015, 9:00 PM UTC
Fortune Most Powerful Women 2014
Wednesday, Oct. 8th, 2014 Laguna Niguel, CA, USA SCALING YOUR COMPANY Three star entrepreneurs on the challenges, lessons, and rewards in taking their businesses to the next level 
Susan Coelius Keplinger, Co-founder and President, Triggit
Debbie Sterling, Founder and CEO, GoldieBlox
Shunee Yee, Founder, President and CEO, CSOFT International 
Moderator: Leigh Gallagher, Fortune Photograph by Krista Kennell/Fortune Most Powerful Women
Photograph by Krista Kennell — Fortune Most Powerful Women

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. This week we ask: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? The following answer is by Susan Coelius Keplinger, President and COO of Triggit.

To be a great leader, first strive to be an amazing guide. Too often folks perceive leadership and promotions as the power to be bossy, or to micromanage their teams every moment. As a 24 year-old founder of an advertising technology company, in an industry and space completely dominated by older men, I learned quickly that by being my best guide, I was my best leader.

Let me explain. Some of the best guides in the world are big mountain ski guides – they literally hold the lives of their teams and clients in their hands. The guide’s role is not to ski the fastest or jump off the biggest cliff (though typically they are the best skiers in the group), but instead to empower their people to navigate extreme terrain safely, confidently and efficiently. To succeed, guides work tirelessly to understand the abilities of the group (skill levels, experience, etc.), develop achievable tour plans (considering snow conditions, timing, forecasts) and constantly monitor each member to optimize their experience. A great guide therefore not only inspires the confidence to take on big challenges and aggressive tours, but earns the trust of their team to get off the mountain safely, with smiles abound.

Translated into business, new leaders (young or old) will find quick success by sticking to these basic principles:

  1. Understand the abilities of your team and the tools you have to work with.
  2. Create an achievable “tour” plan that considers the expectations and risk tolerances of your team and company.
  3. Optimize for maximum success by finding and suggesting techniques and routes, while avoiding micromanagement and fatigue.

There is little more fulfilling in business than achieving success. As a leader, I find my biggest smiles arrive when I can guide a team into completing a project that seemed intimidating and hard at the beginning, but obvious and achievable by the end. Don’t forget to listen to yourself and your gut, you’ve probably already been a guide for quite some time!

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

The one quality all leaders must have by China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work Institute.

3 lessons every new leader should know by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Barbara Bush: 4 tips for aspiring leaders by Barbara Bush, co-founder of Global Health Corps.

Watch more to see which leaders had the biggest impact in 2014 from Fortune’s video team: