The influence of mountains on life and business
Why have humans had this burning desire to climb mountains? It’s pretty simple really-to conquer them. Whatever their driving force was, nearly every climber discovers that mountains sometimes end up influencing their lives in a way they would never have dreamed of. At first the influence might have been driven by ego or the desire for that ultimate feeling of achievement, but were later to find out that the mountains were ultimately about humility and humanity.
Leadership and change management
Mountains are the ultimate platforms for leadership and change management. An environment that unleashes the necessary qualities a leader needs to oversee a company or team and ultimately reach their ‘summits’. Experiencing the vertical dimensions of mountaineering is a lure that is irresistible and life changing.
Over the years we have collected stories written by our clients who relate their experiences as climbers to the challenges and hazards of business. There is definitely a strong link and practical implications between getting to the top of a mountain and managing a business or team. Management is all about decisions and most importantly, accountability of those decisions. On a mountain there are many life changing decisions that are constantly being made that influence not only the morale of the climbing team but literally their lives as well.
A correlation that can easily be made with the decisions a manager needs to make on a daily basis. Albeit not ‘life threatening’ but the metaphor stands as a reminder of the importance thereof.
“The frosted tent fabric sparkles in the light of a torch beam where Brett sits hunched besides me in the cramped tent. He spoons a mouthful of noodles from his old army mug. I slurp my own tepid spoonful, which tastes a bit like chicken. Or is it mushrooms, or maybe beef? What does it matter? It is purely functional, fuel for the climb, a last attempt to stoke the furnace for the long journey ahead. We have moved beyond the world of sensual pleasure. In the Andes, there is no finesse: all that matters is survival. And yet, we still feel a great surge of excitement and pleasurable anticipation. We have been consumed by this wild, crazy, beautiful odyssey.”
Having the Endurance to Fail
If you look at the success rate of reaching the summit, most mountaineers do not reach the summit on their first attempt. Especially high altitude mountains where the risk and other factor like bad weather, snowstorms and the effects of altitude come into play. Jim Collins, the author of the bestsellers Built to Last and Good to Great, came up with an incredible concept that he describes as ‘fallure’ and not failure. A brilliant metaphor that describes the conscious decision a climber makes to ‘fall’ on route that he realizes he cannot climb. And all climbers know that falling feeling and how unpleasant it can be.
But ultimately the climbing ropes, and team mates will break their fall. Although the climber may not have made the summit, they still push themselves to their ultimate limit. They made that commitment to climb despite the odds. As long as you take that ultimate focused and aggressive step into the unknown and what it may throw at you, getting blown of the mountain is okay despite what your bruised ego and pride might be yelling at you. And yes they will be yelling like a banshee in your head.
Now take this analogy and transform it into a business environment. A sales team who wants to be a focused and aggressive sales team should be just that!! Something that takes commitment and dedication with the realization that you may indeed ‘fall of the mountain’ But is that not what the thrill of building a business and climbing is all about? Managing risks and accepting uncertainty? And what if you ‘fall’ off? That’s Okay. The lessons learnt will be invaluable for future summits and successes.
The concept of ‘compounding’ failures and the ultimate ‘compounding’ of wisdom and experience is part of the process. Being focused and aggressive in your approach is way better than the timid and unsure approach.
Leadership gone wrong on Everest
1996 was the worst year in Everest’s climbing history where 8 people were caught in a snowstorm in the ‘death zone’ and ultimately died. In hindsight, tragedy that may well have been avoided if it were not for the consequences of a critical decision made by the leader of the expedition, Scott Fischer. One of the critical leadership errors he made was that earlier in the expedition he made an announcement to the climbing team that although he would retain the role of leader for official purposes during the journey to base camp, he did not want to make the decisions for his clients higher up on the mountain. He was in the opinion that everyone should ‘share’ in the leadership duties.
Climbing expeditions are no different to businesses-leadership is key!! Without it, personal agendas take over and as you can imagine things will pretty much fall apart. A lack of leadership reinforces the concept that leaders are vital in the success of getting people to work together toward a common goal or summit.
Think like a CEO both on the mountain and in business
Mountaineers, managers and staff alike should make decisions and understand the roles they play as if they were CEO’s or expedition guides. In 2014 we were climbing the North Route of Elbrus (the highest mountain un Russia at 5,642m) We had a climbing group of 15 climbers divided into several different teams. Each team was roped up alpine style as a safety precaution to the many crevasses that can be found on the mountain. One of the climbers on a five-person rope team, Maria, began to suffer from altitude sickness and hypothermia at about 4600m on the summit night. Altitude sickness can be fatal and especially if the climber keeps on ascending the mountain.
But Maria knew that if she decided to go back down the mountain too soon, everyone else would be forced to return with her and the team would have to abandon their attempt of reaching the summit.
Similarly, Maria also realized that if she decided to endure the effects of altitude and try ascending higher, she would also be jeopardizing everyone’s chances of making the summit. And as you can imagine, a lot of training and dedication had already been put into the expedition and Maria did not want to be the cause of others not fulfilling their dram of standing on the highest mountain in Europe. Despite the emotional turmoil, she needed to think like a leader. She made a decision based on what she thought was in the best interests of the entire team. She decided to climb until the team could find a protected overhang where she could rope up and allow the rest of the team to carry on the climb to the summit while she waited for their return.
The other climbers made the summit and descended the to collect Maria for the rest of the descent. Sometimes leaders and managers must humble themselves for the collective interests of the team. Not an easy concept to follow!!
What is leadership all about?
Leadership is hard. Period. What are the overriding themes of leaderships?
- Self confidence
- It’s stressful
- It’s risky
- Its unpleasant
Leadership is also about managing your pride and ego lest you step of a cliff. Mountaineering teaches you confidence. And confident you have to be to face he risks that are associated with it. But risk management is also a major contributing factor. You have to have the technical skills, correct training and be logistically prepared for the climb. If you’re confident about the business and you don’t take excessive risks to build it and don’t think of yourself as invulnerable, as in mountaineering and rock climbing, you should be fine.
The function of a leader in business and on a mountain?
One of the most essential and often overlooked components of leadership can be summed up in one phrase that encompasses helping someone and doing it in an unselfish way: How can I serve you?