70 years ago today, 29th May 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Reading back on Hillary’s and Norgay’s achievement, I wanted to draw on some quick lessons in leadership, teamwork and resilience.
1. Believe in your Dreams – Hillary dreamed of climbing Everest since he was a little boy. Describing himself as ‘a small and rather lonely child’ his dreams of adventures were what kept him motivated. (Sometimes you have to be realistic – I always wanted to be a prima ballerina but never reached the required height – I do though still tap dance every week and in my sixth decade! 😊)
2. If at First you don’t Succeed…. – 1953 was Hillary’s fourth attempt at Everest. Consider the resources he may have drawn upon to keep going. Our self-talk is critical to our ability to stay determined to achieve our goals.
What is something you may have given up on but deep down you still want to achieve? I keep a continual bucket list of 101 things and each year I cross off what I have achieved and add on more so that the day I leave this earth, I’ll still have 101 things I didn’t quite get to (but will do next time around!) I do though have a top 5 that I am determined to achieve.
“I will Come Again & Conquer you Because as a Mountain You can’t Grow, but as a Human, I can”
3. It’s OK to wobble – it’s part of the Human Condition – we can imagine the mental toll this climb would have taken despite the dreams and determination. Resilience isn’t about suppressing emotions and charging ahead, it’s about acknowledging the dips and finding the strength to carry on.
Self-compassion has probably been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn and the day I started to ‘get it’ was the day I stopped comparing myself to others who were seemingly invincible. Lesson learned Clare – we all wobble.
“A terrible sense of fear and loneliness dominated my thoughts. What is the sense of this all? I asked myself.”
4. It takes a Team to succeed as a Leader – Though Hillary and Norgay were celebrated as the victors, the expedition consisted of a huge team of over 400 people, including 362 porters, 20 Sherpa guides and almost 5,000 kilos of baggage (credit Gijs van Wulfen for the stats). Always acknowledge the support structure that lifts you up.
I have been extremely privileged in my career to be a part of and lead extraordinary teams, many members of whom I am still in contact. Yes, it’s cliché but my belief that teamwork makes the dream work!
5. Stay Humble – Hillary and Norgay were not the first team to be chosen to attempt the summit, they waited patiently (and in the harshest of conditions) and took their turn after the others failed.
Humility is an ongoing leadership lesson for me. If it is something that you wish to further develop then I would encourage you to listen to the Rawthentic Leadership Podcast with Rugby League CEO of the Penrith Panthers, Matt Cameron on the Essence of Humility in Leadership
“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”
6. Use the power of Story and Metaphor to inspire – as I mentioned in the previous point, in my conversation with Matt Cameron, he shared how each year the team uses the metaphor of climbing Everest because it’s a repeatable action that can be improved upon year on year.
In my leadership career I loved using metaphors and analogies to help boost team morale or encourage performance. A couple of memorable ones include a Summer long treasure hunt where we mixed and matched everyone from different departments and a rewards program called ‘The Strongest Link’ where we announced an employee of the month and chose different ‘surprise’ criteria for each month’s winner.
7. Leave a Legacy and the Spirit to Serve – Hillary felt so indebted to the people of Nepal for helping him achieve his goals that he established a foundation to help them. The Sir Edmund Hilary Foundation is committed to supporting and empowering the Sherpa people of Nepal, and focuses specifically on education, health and environmental projects in the foothills of Mount Everest.
At BrainSmart, since its inception, we have been supporting Free to Shine, a child protection organisation that prevents school-aged girls being trafficked into the commercial sex industry in Cambodia. Every time we succeed in securing a program, workshop or speaking engagement, we think about the small difference we are making to a young woman’s education, growth and freedom.
We may not be expert mountain climbers but, in our own way, we can lead ourselves and guide each other to whichever summit we collectively believe in.