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Adventurous Leadership

Apter Development, along with Rolex is co-sponsoring a rather special event at the Royal Geographical Society in March 2013. It is the 25th Anniversary for the team who undertook one of the most remarkable climbs in human endeavour. This was the ascent of the Kangshung Face of Everest by an international team of four climbers: Ed Webster, Robert Anderson, Paul Teare and our good friend Stephen Venables. The Kangshung Face is on the remotest part of Everest, 3,350 metres of overhanging rock buttresses, lethal glaciers, and sharp-sided gullies with threatening ice towers.
Unsupported by either supplementary oxygen or a team of Sherpas beyond base camp, meant this was very much a small team adventure in which unsteady snow threatened avalanches without warning.  The deliberate team-light strategy meant they had to climb up and down the face several times. Each camp they established required breaking new ground; establishing rope support and then returning time and time again to haul up materials to supply each camp to support their ascent and descent of the mountain.
George Mallory had written of the challenge: "Other men, less wise, might attempt this way if they would, but, emphatically, it was not for us."
Totally exhausted, only Stephen went on to gain the summit of Everest becoming the first Briton to climb Everest without the aid of bottled oxygen. (He also spent the night out alone at 8,600 metres and managed to survive.) Lord John Hunt the leader of the first successful Expedition said the expedition was “amongst the most remarkable ordeals from which men and women have returned alive”.
Obviously climbing Everest and managing a business are very different challenges - but it is always worth looking at successful leadership in any context to see what lessons or insight the story offers.
Chatting to Stephen over the years, a number of relevant themes have emerged which offer some insight into the expedition’s success and could well be highly relevant:

1) The team was small and made up of highly talented people: This meant that there were no passengers and a very simple structure .How often is this true in organisational teams?

2) Problems on the whole were solved thinking together; not by pitching or proposing a solution to the others. How often does a team make the time for mutual problem solving and gain the buy-in, understanding and creativity that arises from this?

3) Although Robert was the overall leader, leadership was a moving baton with the most appropriate candidate taking the role given the particular challenge they faced. Ed led the team where very technical climbing was required, Venables claims his principal leadership contribution was to make sure everyone was awake and moving at the earliest possible hour in the morning! Is leadership in organisations based on status and hierarchy or does an organisation let the most appropriate person lead at any given time. The premium role of a leader is to ensure leadership exists at all times, but not necessarily provide leadership every time themselves.
We are really looking forward to helping ensure that this special event celebrating some remarkable people and raising money for the Brainstrust is a great success.

Comments on this Post

Rod Springett on 28th November 2012

Firstly best wishes for the event in March 2013 Secondly - loved the story of the ascent and the 3 learning points are so so relevant and equally so simple that they are either forgotten or not even considered. Simplicity is often the last thing considered when thinking about leadership. Thank you for the reminder.

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