Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest Expeditions


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Reaching the highest point on earth - Mount Everest - requires teamwork of the highest level. The successful climber does not fight his environment. He or she must become attuned to it, interpreting the signs and taking appropriate actions. He or she needs to adapt his or her strategies to the changing realities of the elements, the terrain and capabilities of the other team members. Tackling Mount Everest is an analogy for dealing with personal, team, and organizational challenges.

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Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest Expeditions

  1. 1. Leadership Lessons Learning from Mount Everest Expeditions
  2. 2. Everest from afar View of Everest and Khumbu Glacier from the Kala Patthar summit
  3. 3. Everest from afar The radiant blush of a cloud at the summit of Everest, at right, suggests a regal crown—and hints at danger. This is a lenticular cloud, which indicates the presence of strong winds at the summit, perhaps even a jet stream raking the peak. Jet- stream winds can jump quickly from 30 to 175 miles an hour (50 to 280 kilometers an hour) and have been known to blow climbers off their feet. Text: National Geographic Photograph: www.bootsnall.com
  4. 4. Map of Summit Routes* * Map of routes attempted by the 1963 American Mount Everest expedition led by Norman G. Dyhrenfurth, a Swiss-American mountaineer and film maker. The successful expedition placed six climbers on the summit. Map drawn by MIKE REAGAN
  5. 5. Context Imagine your ultimate objective – to put at least one climber on top of Everest (8850m) Extreme physical conditions – altitude, weather (cold, wind), treacherous terrain (icefall, crevasses, avalanche) Diverse makeup of core and support team elements (i.e. people, culture, personal versus team objectives and perspectives) Extreme logistical challenge to establish base and other camps and to keep higher camps adequately stocked. Limited window of time (seasonal and weather limitations) Pressure of sponsors
  6. 6. South-west face of Everest
  7. 7. Context Reaching the highest point on earth requires teamwork of the highest level. Chris Bonington first reached the summit of Everest in 1985 at the age of 50, as a member of the Norwegian Everest Expedition. The expedition placed eighteen climbers and Sherpas on the summit in three separate ascents, a record for a single expedition. This was possible because of superb planning and organization, but most of all, because of the teamwork amongst expedition members.
  8. 8. Succeeding with change Leadership and Teamwork Crises Management Dealing with Obstacles Creating Positive Reactions to Change
  9. 9. Context The successful climber does not fight his environment. He or she must become attuned to it, interpreting the signs and taking appropriate actions. He needs to adapt his strategies to the changing realities of the elements, the terrain and capabilities of the other team members.
  10. 10. South Summit Nepal, 1963 Photograph by Barry C. Bishop “Snow-plumed South Summit of Everest challenges climbers 25,000 feet [7620 meters] high on Lhotse’s slanting face. Bracing themselves with ice axes, steel boot spikes, and a rope fixed to the mountain, the men pause for breath in the rarefied air. Oxygen here is only two-fifths the density at sea level, and climbers must breathe bottled gas.” —From “Six to the Summit,” October 1963, National Geographic magazine
  11. 11. Risk and Reward Ultimate climbing achievement in reaching top of Everest, and/or Being part of a successful expedition, and/or Pioneering a new route up Everest Versus consequences of failure – ultimate price death – high mortality rate on Everest expeditions or at best loosing limbs due to frostbite
  12. 12. Required Technology – leading edge versus proven  E.g. oxygen equipment, tents, clothing Climbing skills (technical proficiency) Mountaineering experience Expedition track record Psychological balance (emotional intelligence)
  13. 13. Khumbu Icefall Nepal, 1999 Photograph by Bobby Model Sherpa Fura Gyaljen gingerly crosses a crevasse in Everest’s Khumbu Icefield. A month before, the same crevasse had measured six inches (15 centimeters) wide. (Photographed on assignment for the Everest/K2 Expedition, sponsored in part by the National Geographic Expeditions Council)
  14. 14. Guide to success (1) Matching people within a team structure, e.g. various team roles such as “happy clown”, “silent proficiency” Reconcile resources and objectives Power of preparation Manage conflict Reward and recognition
  15. 15. Guide to success (2) No single “hero” in team makes the team, but it is all about how well the team integrates as a single unit Acclimatisation Attention to detail Rest and recovery Celebrate achievements
  16. 16. Climber with ice around face
  17. 17. Guide to success (3) Systematic approach Project planning – sound framework but flexibility for changing circumstances Manage emotional roller-coaster Ensure people are left with a sense of fulfilment and achievement Perseverance and dedication
  18. 18. Guide to success (4) Role clarification Reconcile expectations – personal goals and main mission (team/expedition) goals Do not (always) reinvent the wheel (take cognisance of lessons learnt) Communication! Know team members very well Hierarchy of objectives
  19. 19. Guide to success (5) Hope and inspiration Aim for the seemingly impossible Council Scout route and get input from team Appeal to the imagination Determination – “press on regardless” Confidence
  20. 20. Guide to success (6) Demonstrate trust in people Buy-in: how to get people to willingly, enthusiastically, go along Sense of urgency Preparation (attention to detail)
  21. 21. Guide to success (7) “This might sound very mercenary, but then it must be remembered that in helping the expedition in return for payment, the Sherpas are no different from any other employees on a daily wage, though – in common with an ordinary factory-worker in Britain – they need more than just money to command their enthusiasm as well as obedience.”
  22. 22. Guide to success (8) “They need to feel that the job is worth doing; they need to develop friendships with their employers and to feel that their efforts are fully recognised. In this respect Pertemba and Ang Phu were especially important, for I was employing them as managers in the very fullest sense of the word.”
  23. 23. Guide to success (9) “I consulted Pertemba at each step, occasionally irritating my lead climbers by accepting Pertemba’s advice on what he felt the Sherpa’s could do, or even on route selection, in preference to their own. He was left entirely to his own judgement on the choice of individual Sherpas for different roles. ”
  24. 24. Each of us has our personal equivalents of “Everest Expeditions”…
  25. 25. Reflections By Alan Arnette
  26. 26. Everest South Col Route
  27. 27. Everest from afar Base camp on the lower left with the initial route up the ice fall as seen from Kala Patar. You can only see a small portion of the Khumbu Ice Fall from this angle.
  28. 28. Everest from afar Lower third of the ice fall as seen from basecamp. There is still twice as much to climb at the top of this photo. The route changes each day since the glacier is constantly moving. Lhotse's summit is peeking out on the top right above the icefall.
  29. 29. Everest from afar Western Cwm route from Camp 1 (top triangle) to Camp 2 (bottom triangle) as seen from Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face. This area is heavily crevassed and smart teams rope up. It takes about 2-3 hours to walk from C1 to C2 and it can be extremely hot.
  30. 30. Everest from afar Route from Camp 2 (lower left triangle) to Camp 3 (upper triangle) up the Lhotse Face, across the yellow band and up the Geneva Spur to the South Col. You must be clipped into the fixed line at all times to avoid falling and death. Avalanche danger is also real on the Face
  31. 31. Everest from afar Route from Camp 3 to the South Col. Across the Yellow Band and to the left up the Geneva Spur. This is the first time most climbers start to use bottled oxygen. The climbing and Yellow Band is not technically hard but climbers are approaching 8000m.
  32. 32. Everest from afar Summit route as seen from Camp 4, the South Col. The true summit is not visible from this angle. It was still 10 hours to the summit from where Alan Arnette (photographer) turned around.
  33. 33. Everest from afar Everest close up from Kala Pattar with the North Face on the left, the Hillary Step in the middle right and the South Summit on the right. Source: mountainsoftravelphotos
  34. 34. Alan Arnette on Management Communication and Management  When you are tired of saying something, your audience is hearing it for the first time  Communicate, Communicate, Communicate  Keep your message simple and singular (one point per message)  Create the vision, co-develop the strategy and get the hell out of the way of great people  Create a diverse team and enjoy the creative benefits while accepting the leadership challenges  Demand full participation from everyone on your team while respecting their style  Let your Org Chart communicate roles, responsibilities, measures and objectives  The best slides are simple, limited clip art, and are self explanatory
  35. 35. Alan Arnette on Management Partners and Customers Partners  Keep outsourcing management simple and focused  Negotiate price, never compromise on quality  Your partner making a fair profit is a requirement for a win-win relationship  Communicate key measures often, simply and consistently Customers  Customers are why we are here  When in doubt, spend time at a customer's site … often.  Customer satisfaction is a point in time, loyalty is the long term relationship with your company
  36. 36. Alan Arnette on Management Employees  Be visible to all levels of your organization on a regular basis  Active and honest feedback is a measure of how much you care about your employee  Hire people better than you  Employees learn more about you by what you do versus what you say  On a bad day, spend half an hour with your first level employees to get re-energized  A lunch a week with customers and another with employees will keep you in touch with reality
  37. 37. Alan Arnette on Management Strategy and Results  Centralize the process design to manage a consistent strategy  Two points make a straight line. Act on trends swiftly  Boiling frogs jump out, warming frogs die in the pot: watch the little signs that things are not well  Localize the implementation to satisfy the customer  Manage the numbers and don't let them manage you  Fast decision making without effective follow through is chaos  Anticipate versus react  The magic triangle: happy employees, loyal customers, solid business results  When evaluating a difficult situation, ask: "Is it impossible, or is it just hard to do?"  Think Big, be Big
  38. 38. Alan Arnette on Management Organizational Model  Organizational models are about managing the boundaries between different organizations  There is always a large loss in productivity when you re-organize so there must be a larger gain from new organization to justify the re- organization  Prior organizational models seem to always return, so don't criticize them too much
  39. 39. Alan Arnette on Leadership Is it hard or impossible? My right foot slips causing me to swing across the vertical rock wall at 20,000'. Smooth rock above, death below. As I settle against the wall, I look up and then I look down. Turn back? Quit? Is this really, really hard or simply impossible? The ultimate question I use during climbs to evaluate if I should turn back or keep going. In business we hit issues all the time that seem impossible to overcome. It seems like on a daily basis I hear someone say, "This is impossible!" A sales goal. A development schedule. A relationship. Is it hard or impossible? Often when confronted with this simple question, we reflect on the goal. Is it still worthwhile? Do I really believe in it? Do I have the commitment and energy to stay with it until the end?
  40. 40. Alan Arnette on Leadership Are you hurt or hurting? Organizations are like people. They are hurting and sometimes they are actually hurt. The trick is understanding the difference. "I can't move my legs", Scott said quietly in his sleeping bag. I looked closely at the 17 year-old and asked him the obvious. "They sure are sore and it hurts to move." he said with a wince. With that I relaxed knowing that this young climber was learning the difference between being hurt and simply hurting. We all go through this every day. Someone says something that bothers us. We say something we shouldn't. Business takes a turn for the worst and everything looks bleak. Do we give up simply because we are hurting? Do we quit our job because we are hurting? Or do we learn from the pain and go on?
  41. 41. Alan Arnette on Leadership Focus on the big picture while keeping the details in mind. Everest expeditions are a true test of patience and logistics. A typical expedition requires tons of gear. Imagine feeding up to thirty people three meals a day for six weeks - all above 20,000 feet! Think about getting up and climbing several thousand feet to drop off gear and to get your body adjusted to the higher altitude just to return to where you started the next day. Staying focused on the goal while managing the details is the issue. In business, we often fall into the trap of making the daily tactics the strategy or making the strategy the daily details. We forget that we must have balance of the two. If you focus on getting food and water just for that day and not preparing for the difficult future, then when that times comes, you struggle to accomplish the goal - or worse… high up on a big mountain.
  42. 42. Bonington Everest Expedition 1975 First Ever SW Face Summit •Summit at 8850m (29,035ft) •Bivvy at 8748m (28,700ft) No Oxygen supply??!! (on the way down) •Camp VI at 8321m (27,300ft) •Camp V at 7773m (25,500ft) •Camp IV at 7224m (23,700ft) •Camp III at 6980m (22,900ft)
  43. 43. Sources Chris Bonington, Everest Expeditions National Geographic www.extremeconnection.net www.alanarnette.com www.bootsnall.com www.outsideonline.com/o/outdoor-adventure/climbing/mountaineering/lost-on-everest Mike Reagan: www.outsideonline.com/o/designimages/map-everest-routes.png www.mountainsoftravelphotos.com/Everest/Main.html
  44. 44. Contact Conroy Fourie +27 79 708 5223 conroyfourie@iafrica.com www.conroyfourie.wordpress.com