Interview with Ambassador Dani Arnold

Swiss alpinist Dani Arnold at Cima Grande
Dani Arnold, extreme climber and Rochester-Bern ambassador since late 2018, illustrates in this short interview with Rochester-Bern CEO, Petra Joerg, the parallels between leadership in the mountains and in the business world.

Interview: Petra Joerg

RoBe: Dani, you hold several free solo records and have climbed many prestigious mountains in Europe, the United States, and Asia. Despite your immense success, you are still working as a guide, leading less and more experienced alpinists to unforgettable mountain experiences. Why?

Dani: I think it is the diversity of challenges, which I like. Firstly, climbing a mountain free solo (climbing a route without any aids or safety measures) and at high speed makes me happy; at the same time, it shows me my limits and helps me overcome them. Secondly, difficult mountain tours always happen together with a team. You can only succeed if you trust your team unconditionally – something which is very important
to me. Finally, working with guests means leadership, which I like a lot too.

RoBe: When listening to you, I hear some important management buzzwords. Let us dive a bit deeper into some of the concepts. Where do you see parallels between leadership in the mountains and in business?

Dani: Let me give you an example. Assume that the two of us want to climb the Matterhorn. We both want to reach the top, so we have a common goal, which is a good basis for success. I am your guide, so I will lead the way. At the same time, you have to trust that I know what I am doing because otherwise, you would not follow me. Moreover, both of us have to give our very best in order to be successful. On our way, we may experience unexpected surprises, which may lead to changes in our plans; potentially, we will even have to return in order to avoid risking our lives. If all goes well, we will reach the top. Our reward will be a gorgeous view, which will put things into perspective. This is just a short moment since we need to descend safely. This is very similar to what happens to companies, leaders and their teams.

RoBe: You also mentioned your free solo experience. Don’t you see a contradiction to what you just said?

Dani: I do not think so. Each one of your students is ambitious and has clear goals. You reach these goals together with your team but at the same time, you have to push yourself to your limits in order to learn, grow, and engage people who are working with you. Imagine that we are climbing together and you find no step for your foot, no grip for your fingers. You feel lost, but you don’t give up. You fight for each centimeter and suddenly you find the step, the grip that you were hoping for and the situation looks different. In management, this means that you expose yourself to new situations, take risks, fall and stand up again. Each time you feel a bit smarter. That’s what I would call good leadership – and that’s pretty close to what I do.