Articles

As Business Leaders, We Don't Have To Climb Everest

December 08, 2016 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

I’ve been to Mount Everest. I’m privileged to have stood in the Himalayas and viewed the spectacular highest mountain in the world. To see the sight of the jet stream wafting off the top. A truly grand experience in a country with beautiful culture and beautiful people.

So, what question am I asked the most about my trip to Nepal and Mount Everest?

“Did you make it to the top of Everest?”

No. No I did not. Here’s another confession. I didn’t even try. I made no attempt. I didn’t set one cold toe on any route up the mountain. I didn’t teeter on ladders, crawling across a gaping crevasse. I didn’t hang from fixed ropes off the side of a mountain. I didn’t push myself every tiny step with laboured breathing, wearing an oxygen mask to get me through the Death Zone. None of it.

Climbing Everest was never part of the plan. Not a goal. Not an objective.

What was part of the plan was an adventure discovering an interesting and awe-inspiring country. Getting to know people, their culture and their spirituality. Seeing vistas that relatively few people outside the region get to see in their lives. The plan was to have an incredible experience. Check that one off the list of to-dos – achieved!

As business leaders, we don’t have to climb Everest. More importantly, we don’t need to direct our teams to do it.

Climbing Everest would have been an impossible goal for me. Not enough skills or fitness to get there even if I spent the rest of my life preparing. The idea of it is ridiculous when you think of the goal relative to reality.

In business, it should be the same reality check. We certainly don’t have to build the impossible or near impossible into goals. Despite how performance evaluations may be graded on a curve in our companies, it should be possible to exceed expectations. We cannot make success something so far out of reach, we’ll likely never get there.

Don’t make your team’s daily experience the same as teetering on the ragged edge of a bottomless crevasse. It’s demoralizing.

Competitive edge is important. Drive and ambition toward excellence are very important. Goals and objectives need to make sense for the business while still being reasonable and achievable. This should be the first priority of great leaders. I’m a fan of big, hairy, audacious goals, but audacious does not equal impossible.

You can achieve excellent business results without setting superhuman goals that are out of reach for most mere mortals.

Push your teams. That’s what you’re there to do. But always keep in mind that people want to achieve. They want to exceed expectations. They want to be extraordinary. The outcome has to be something that can be envisioned – they have to be able to see themselves being successful and know the path to get there.

So if you go big on goals, if you decide to push teams to climb the mountain, then you have to know their capabilities and how you’ll get them where they are going.

You have to be the Sherpa helping them make it through the challenge. When the goal is reasonable given the skills, support and resources, then your teams will achieve business results. They will make incredible things happen. Most important, they’ll do it while feeling exhilarated and fulfilled in their work.

Wendy Lambourne
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