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8th Key Observation: “Learn the Ways of the Sherpa”

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


8th Key Observation…

“Learn the Ways of the Sherpa”

Diversity and Sherpa Leadership

presented for your intellectually driven consideration, emotionally driven engagement and—most important—your viscerally driven action


“Our actual ultimate root is in our common humanity…not in our personal genealogy.”

Joseph Campbell

Disclaimer:  While I did the normal kind of hiking as a kid and a little bit more when I was stationed with US Air Force in Alaska in the 60’s, I still consider myself a novice when it comes to high altitude trekking and climbing.  That said, I am certified in technical climbing by the Alaska Mountain Guides and Climbing School in Haines (photo above taken during training on 2000), I’ve trekked to the Mt. Everest Basecamp and the Summit of Mt. Kalapathar in Nepal in 2001, and reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro via the Machame  route in 2006. Currently I’m in training for a South American Andes trek this summer to Machu Picchu taking the Salkantay Mountain route with the great folks from International Mountain Guides (IMG).  I’ve also done training hikes in Colorado and a couple up-and-downs on the misleadingly rugged Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

Why Climb Mountains?

Very nice, Giusto, beautifully said…

Yes, all that he said (perhaps not the pipe smoking part…) and more.  One of the “and more” things for me are the leadership lessons that I observe each time I head off with a mountain guide.  Whether it’s a leisurely hike on the Missouri Lakes Trail overlooking Beaver Creek, navigating a whiteout on the Davidson Glacier in Alaska, communing with yaks in the High Kumbu of Nepal, or crossing the Baranco Wall to the Karanga Valley in Tanzania,  I pay close attention to the head guy…the leader…the boss…the guide…The Sherpa.

And, yes, the true “Sherpa” is a member of an ethnic group that hails from the high mountains of Nepal—I had the pleasure of trusting in and learning from Ang Nima Sherpa while on the Mt. Everest adventure—but, for the purpose of this essay, I will refer to all guides as sherpas.  Also, I’m going to pick Africa for this posting but the principals of leadership and the lessons learned apply to all of my trekking adventures.

Diversity and Sherpa Leadership

“Machame, also known as the “Whisky Route,” no doubt in order to set it apart from the “Coca Cola” Marangu route is an option not for the soft-core [trekker]…”

– Mt. Kilimanjaro Travel Guide

RiddleDefying the odds, how do you get ALL twelve men and women ranging in age from 16 to 61, from diverse socio-economic-political-occupational-geographic backgrounds, to travel to Africa, trek to the 19,341’  summit of the highest free standing mountain in the world (that last foot is a killer) and—most important­—all return home safely to hike, trek and climb again?

Answer:  Sherpa Leadership

A good sherpa is agnostic when it comes to diversity.  His leadership skills and success are not influenced by your religion, ethnicity, country of origin, occupation, age or gender.  He doesn’t care…and neither does the mountain.

The sherpa does care about the mission, your commitment, training, endurance, flexibility, whole-person health, integrity, humanity, humility, team spirit, heart, guts and soul.  He is a blind integrator of cultural backgrounds and beliefs and the ultimate discriminator of ability, drive and determination.

The mountain doesn’t care about any of this.  Contrary to popular myths, mountains are not moved by your goals, aspirations, hopes, past history, future dreams, hardships, talents, money or even your integrity or humanity.

So, when you are heading off to the mountains (wherever they may be) put your trust in leadership…not, the mountain.  One cares, the other simply is…

The Good Sherpa has…

  • experience
  • verbal and nonverbal skills
  • love of people
  • training
  • assessment knowledge
  • superior network
  • goal setting skills
  • 6th sense
  • knows when to carry your pack and when to give it back
  • passion for the journey
  • love of nature

The Good Sherpa values…

  • client wellbeing 1st, last & forever
  • client’s expressed goals
  • strategic team selection
  • impeccable field support
  • the “no jerks allowed” rule
  • direct, clear communication (no oblique speak)
  • the principal of “accept, respect & secure”
  • the power of the possible
  • mountains not caring
  • the reality that ego & hubris kill people
  • the power of the spirit and weakness of the flesh
  • the fact that form always follows function
  • the fact that basecamp is for discussion…the path is for following directions
  • on the mountain there is no room for metaphor, ambiguity or hyperbole
  • metrics
  • an emerging strategies approach
  • a life of healthy uncertainty

Much more to come on this subject…


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