UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Amy Whitney to leaders: ‘Find your true north’

In fourth week of 18:83 Speaker Series, Amy Whitney encourages leaders to blaze their own trails

Amy Whitney
Amy Whitney used her history as an experienced hiker to draw a roadmap for current and future leaders in her 18:83 speech. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

“I’d like to introduce you to Mount Leadership, elevation: 1,883 feet,” Amy Whitney said as she opened her speech in the latest installment of the 18:83 Speakers Series. “Mountains are actually quite tough, so I’m going to be your trail guide.”

Whitney, the director of the Center for Innovation, took a fittingly innovative approach to her speech. Using hiking as a metaphor, she laid out the principles, priorities and qualities leaders can utilize to forge their own paths to success.

Throughout her 18 minute and 83 second talk, Whitney reflected on her experiences hiking across the country and drew parallels between the lessons she learned on the trail and the qualities she strives to embody as a leader.

Perhaps the most important tool in any hiker’s pack is the compass. No matter how lost they are, a compass can point them in the direction they need to go. Whitney said that finding a direction, a “true north,” is a matter of finding a foundational belief system.

“Hikers use true north for navigation,” Whitney said. “True north is to navigation as your beliefs, your values, and your principles are to you as a person and a leader.”

When struggling to make a difficult decision or navigating complex relationships, one can turn to their core values and principles for guidance, Whitney said. But if that isn’t enough, she suggests using connections and relationships as a map to get back on course.

To illustrate this, she described a time where her curiosity got the best of her on a hike, leading her to the bottom of a cliff. The only way to get back to the trail was to carefully scale the rocky cliff with the help of a friend who was “belaying,” or managing the safety rope system.

“Leadership in life requires trusting yourself when you’re not quite sure that rope is there and you have to trust others to have your back on the cliff,” she said. “Your internal compass, your network and your preparation are all foundations to be able to give you that trust in yourself and others.”

“Believe in yourself, believe in your safety equipment and believe in those that are managing that belay system because they do have your back.”

The audience on the Social Stairs of the Memorial Union. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

Whitney cautioned that, although forging new paths is an essential aspect of becoming an effective leader, overexertion can have consequences that jeopardize whatever progress was made.

“I’ve carried way too many people off a mountain cliff, strapped into a stretcher because they didn’t know their limits. They didn’t stop, they didn’t turn around,” she said.

“I’ve seen friends, family and coworkers burn out because they didn’t know their limits and I’ve seen them make decisions that have life altering consequences. This can be avoided if you know your limits and take care of yourself.”

Finally, Whitney encouraged the audience to embrace change. Returning to a trail after a year may reveal changes in the terrain or new routes through the environment and, she said, approaching those changes with an open mind can reveal a new beauty.

Throughout her professional career, motherhood and personal life, Whitney has identified one constant: change is inevitable. Each person’s path is unique, leading them in new unexpected directions and what’s most important is allowing room for foundational beliefs and values, the true north, to adapt accordingly.

“Every hike is a new journey and an opportunity to grow as a leader on your path through life. Put on your hiking boots and hike your own hike, the view is worth the climb.”

Provost Eric Link will deliver the next speech in the 18:83 Speaker Series on Wednesday, September 27.