Every organizational leader can take a few lessons on building a high-performance team from the sport of mountain climbing; where they realize teamwork can mean the difference between life and death.
On May 26, 2006, Lincoln Hall, an Australian mountaineer who had reportedly died the day before on his way down from the summit of Mt. Everest, was found just before what is known as the “Second Step.” Imagine the surprise of climber Myles Osborne and his team when they came upon Lincoln–suffering greatly from exposure, but most certainly alive! After Osborne and his companions made sure that Hall was revived, refueled and sent down the mountain to safety with a team of Sherpas, they turned their attention back to the task at hand. It was then that they realized that their dream of reaching the summit of Everest would have to wait, as the window of opportunity for their climb had closed.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from mountain climbing that can be applied to leadership. Especially from the first two climbers, Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, to reach the top of Mt. Everest. You can incorporate the following five lessons into your leadership from the comfort of your own office.
Learn from Previous Attempts and Failures
In 1953, the team of Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary had not been selected to make the first attempt at the summit. That distinction fell to Tom Bourdillon, Charles Evans and Colonel Hunt. Hunt and his team returned, but had been unsuccessful. All that afternoon, Hillary and Norgay pumped information out of the failed climbers with hopes of learning from their mistakes.
The Right People in the Right Positions
Hall’s adventure would never have been possible without the efforts of a humble Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay, a member of the first two-man team to reach the 29,035-foot crown on Mount Everest on May 29, 1953. Norgay was selected to organize the rest of the porters for Hall’s expedition. Planning to take just two men to the summit required:
- 10 high-altitude climbers
- 2.5 tons of equipment and food
- 200-300 people to carry supplies over 180 miles through rugged terrain to the base camp
- 40 porters to carry 750 pounds of equipment to the highest camp
When Norgay spoke of the teamwork involved, he said, “You do not climb a mountain like Everest by trying to race ahead on your own, or by competing with your comrades. You do it slowly and carefully, by unselfish teamwork.
Celebrate the Contribution of Every Team Member
Norgay and Hillary began their ascent at 3:30 a.m. Climbing as a team, they surpassed the highest point any climber had ever reached. They found good conditions and stopped, only occasionally, to clear ice from each other’s breathing tubes. Just before the summit, they encountered a 40-foot vertical section of rock. By securing each other with rope one at a time, they slowly worked their way up the ridge until finally, they were at the summit!
Norgay wrote about the importance of the incredible team behind him: “Where would Hillary and I have been without the others? Without the climbers who had made the route and the Sherpas who had carried the loads. It was only because of the work and sacrifice of all of them that we were now to have our chance at the top.”
Win as One Team
Perhaps the true team spirit of Norgay and Hillary was reflected in their reported responses to the question, “Which one of you reached the summit first?” In his press statement at the time, Hillary wrote that they reached the summit “almost together.” And years later, Jamling Norgay, Tenzing’s son, commented that he had been asked by literally thousands of people, “Which one reached the summit first?” My father’s answer was always, “We climbed as a team, period.”
On Everest, the stakes are high: Only one climber in seven, who attempt it, reaches the top. Of every five who do reach the summit, one dies in the attempt. Hundreds of people contribute to two men reaching the summit. Thankfully in leadership, we have a much higher success rate. But by incorporating these lessons, we can take our leadership to an even high level.
Does every member of your team “climb” together or are some team members only looking out for themselves?
If your team could use some help to “reach the summit” contact us for more information about Team Assessments, Employee Opinion Surveys, and Leadership 360 Surveys and individual coaching. Peter Barron Stark Companies is dedicated to helping organizations build stronger teams to ensure they achieve their strategic goals and create a culture where team members love to come to work.