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This CEO Coach Followed Her Passions to a BIG Adventure

Kelly Wade

Guest: Kelly Wade, a coach at CEO Coaching International. Kelly has amassed nearly 30 years of sales, marketing, and management experience focused on growing and leading people, cultivating unique cultures, and developing strategic long-term growth plans for a variety of industries.

Quick Background: Leading a business to BIG can sometimes feel like an all-consuming mission. But the best CEOs never forget that there is life outside of the c-suite. And they draw on lessons from their personal passions, relationships, and experiences to grow as leaders.

On today’s show, Kelly Wade walks us through her journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and the connection between having an adventurous spirit and succeeding in business and life.

Keys to Living Your Passions from Kelly Wade

1. Reward yourself.

Camping trips in college sparked Kelly’s interest in the great outdoors, but she didn’t take her first serious hike until she was 29. She got hooked exploring trails in Aspen, Cuba, and Switzerland. And then, after leading North American Roofing through a nine-figure competitive bidding process and successful sale, Kelly decided to take her adventuring to the next level.

“After I sold the company, my gift to myself was Patagonia,” Kelly says. “And that started the turn of looking at mountains a little bit differently. Noticing elevation, noticing what you can climb versus hike versus summit. And then my son went off to school last summer. So I sold the house, put everything in storage, took off to Europe, did the Haute Route in the Alps from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland. Then I wanted more. So I Googled, ‘Where’s the toughest place to hike?’ Apparently, it was the GR20. So I went over to Corsica and did that. I remember climbing up this granite face and it’s raining and I can slide and die. And I was laughing. I was like, ‘If I do die, I’m good.’ And that’s not a morbid thought. It was an empowering thought. It was just an amazing feeling that I felt so strong in that moment.”

It’s impossible to put a price tag on those kinds of BIG experiences. That’s why, at the beginning of every year, our founder and CEO, Mark Moses, opens his new calendar and schedules his exercise time and family vacations before anything else. As a successful CEO, you too have the resources to step outside of your business from time to time, follow your passions, and realize your larger-than-life dreams.

So, what’s holding you back?

2. Seize opportunity.

For her next adventure, Kelly had her sights set on hiking with gorillas in Rwanda. When COVID canceled that trip, her tour guide had an alternative suggestion: climbing Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Kelly didn’t hesitate.

“I said, ‘Let’s go!'” Kelly remembers. “I had no clue what that meant. Didn’t know what the Seven Summits were. Didn’t know what 19,000 feet meant. And the gear! For me to take water on a nine-hour hike is a miracle. Everybody in my group shows up and they’re talking about all the videos they’ve watched and I have no clue about the hike. Nothing. The biggest thing was packing the gear list. And I didn’t even want to think about that. So I just bought every single thing they said to buy.”

As Kelly climbed towards the summit, sleeping in layers of clothes, learning the lingo and how to use her new equipment (including blue bags), she did take away some lessons that will inform her prep for future climbs. But what if she’d let everything she didn’t know prevent her from saying yes to Kilimanjaro in the first place? What if she hadn’t followed her passions towards someplace new?

And likewise, what if you, in your CEO chair, let the uncertainty we’re all experiencing right now, prevent you from making moves that could position your business for a great year ahead? There’s nothing more important than a solid strategic plan. But leaders have to be on the lookout for unexpected opportunities and be prepared to make the most of them.

“I like pushing myself,” Kelly says. “I like seeing what I’m able to do. The feeling afterward is this unbelievable feeling of empowerment. Life is hard, right? I raised two kids on my own and ran companies and sold them and dealt with private equity. And it wasn’t always positive. And I didn’t always know what I was doing. But I was willing to do it and go for it. There’s a feeling that comes over you: Bring it on! I did that! The feeling of achievement, empowerment, and not for a badge or acknowledgment. It’s this feeling inside of you that’s just unbelievable.”

3. Make every day BIG!

When Kelly says she didn’t really prepare for Kilimanjaro, she’s selling herself more than a little short. Over the course of her career, Kelly learned how to take control of her schedule and make following her passions a part of her everyday routine. That includes a dedicated exercise schedule, unique meeting habits, and knowing when it’s time to clock out.

“I run every morning,” she says. “I get up and do a quick four-mile run just to get the blood going. It helps me with coaching and my work. When I was a CEO, I had an hour commute, so I made the decision to walk while I talk. And I let everybody know, any strategic conversation that does not need me to pull up a spreadsheet, I will be walking. And so my meetings were set up that way. And then I have a cutoff point in the day so that I make sure I get at least a two-hour climb in during the afternoon.”

Kelly says that enforcing that cutoff time took some getting used to, which is a feeling all CEOs can relate to. But being in charge of how and when you work is a perk that not enough CEOs take full advantage of. As Kelly’s routine shows, you don’t have to fly to the other side of the world to live your passions. Carve out those moments to clear your head, get your heart pumping, learn something new, or just catch up with family and friends. If you can’t, then you’re not running a business, the business is running you.

And don’t come crying to Kelly.

“I’m not very empathetic to anyone who doesn’t make time, because I think that’s a bunch of bull,” she says. “What does it say to your partners, your employees, your colleagues if they see that you don’t care about your wellness? What does that say about you? I think you need to change the way you think about that. Being the guy that’s first in, last out, never leaves the office, that’s not somebody that anybody wants to look up to. We want to look up to the person who leads a fulfilled life. To be a leader is to be a model. You don’t need to be in Patagonia. You don’t need to be on vacation. If you’re committed to yourself, your family, being a leader, then you’ll find a way, every single day.” 

Kelly at the Summit of Kilimanjaro
Kelly at the Summit of Kilimanjaro

Top Takeaways

1. Celebrate wins BIG and small by taking the personal time you deserve and exploring your passions.

2. Say yes to challenges and opportunities, then plot the best path forward.

3. Set an example of living a full, well-rounded life that will inspire your employees to think BIG. 

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 67.8% during their time as a client, nearly four times the U.S. average and a revenue CAGR of 25.5%, more than twice the U.S. average.

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