Leader of the Week – Around the Ivies
For the second edition of Harvard Leadership Magazine’s new Leader of the Week – Around the Ivies feature, we sat down with Cason Crane (Princeton ’17). Cason is the founder of the Rainbow Summits project, through which he became the first openly gay mountaineer to climb the Seven Summits (the seven highest mountains on each continent)—raising money and awareness for the Trevor Project along the way.
Where did your interest in mountain climbing begin?
I’ve been an avid hiker for as long as I can remember, and my introduction to mountaineering came my freshman year of high school. My mother and I wanted to have a ‘mother-son bonding’ trip for spring break, and she suggested climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (which is the highest mountain in Africa, and one of the Seven Summits). It’s a very popular expedition because it’s a ‘walk-up’ (i.e. there’s no technical skills or experience required). It was an awesome—and addicting—introduction to mountaineering. As soon as I got back home, was already trying to plan my next expedition.
How has mountain climbing changed how you think about and attack challenges and leadership?
My mountaineering experiences have completely shaped my understanding of how to attack challenges and how I define leadership. When you’re climbing big mountains, every day can be life-or-death, and so that puts things in perspective. It forced me, especially when I was starting out, to think really carefully about how I dealt with every small issue, so that I would be prepared in case there was a major issue. I formulated strategies for overcoming these obstacles, such as breaking down big challenges into smaller ones that were more manageable, and taking one step at a time. Formulating these ideas while in a team setting on the mountain gave me further insight into what it meant to be a leader. I found that there were certain team leaders who were more effective than others, and I was able to draw on that to come to my own personal understanding of what it means to be a good and effective leader.
Tell us about the inspiration you take from your friend Tyler Clementi and how it translated into the Rainbow Summits Project.
I lost a close friend to suicide in high school, and her death, combined with the tragic deaths of Tyler Clementi and several other young LGBT kids really struck a chord with me as I was finishing high school. I couldn’t sit by on the sidelines while these amazing young people took their own lives. And so, after a couple false starts, I ultimately came up with The Rainbow Summits Project as a novel way for me to contribute by doing something I really loved—climbing—and using it as a platform to promote this issue and raise funds for The Trevor Project.
Where do you see the Rainbow Summits Project taking you now that you have climbed the Seven Summits?
Since finishing the Seven Summits, The Rainbow Summits Project has shifted gears towards exclusively raising awareness for suicide prevention and the lifesaving work being done on this issue by The Trevor Project. Ideally, I’d like to further transition Rainbow Summits into an interactive platform that helps support people looking to start their own initiative and find their ‘Everest.’
Who do you model yourself after as a leader?
I have so many role models for many different aspects of my life. For leadership, I look specifically towards figures such as Hillary Clinton and Steve Jobs. Hillary for her persistence both in the way she’s broken down so many barriers in her own career, as well as in her work on behalf of others, especially women and children. I also really admire Hillary for her pragmatism and ability to work together with different stakeholders to accomplish things—that is such an important quality, and I hope that with time I can develop those same skills in myself. I admire Jobs for his incredible vision and ability to see beyond the curve. He certainly wasn’t perfect (no one is!), but I try to emulate his awareness, and ability not just to see the future but to actually manufacture and sell that future to millions of consumers.
Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?
This is a tough question—so much can change in a year or two, let alone 5 or 10 years. I would hope to see myself engaged in a career that I’m passionate about, making a difference in the world if not in my business endeavors than in some form of public or civic service. I also hope that I’ll be starting a family with my partner in 10 years…lots of kids! And, of course, I hope to be climbing in my spare time.