The top of the world measures 29,029 feet (more than double Colorado’s highest peak). But the course to the summit of Mount Everest is steep, treacherous, and unpredictable. Climbers greatly increase their chances of surviving (let alone summiting) when they are led by members of the local Nepalese community. Sherpas are the most experienced and knowledgeable experts on Everest’s terrain and conditions.
Similarly, the best managers guide people to the peak of their potential, reaching heights that bring the greatest reward and the best views. While Sherpas increase climbers’ chance for success, nobody reaches the highest heights without putting their own feet and energy to the effort. You can be the biggest cheerleader and the best guide, but each individual must believe that the mountaintop is worth the required hard work. To lead team members to the top, you must gain collaboration by giving them options and creating the plan together.
Even with a team of personal cheerleaders, someone to lead the way, and all the physical and mental capabilities, not everyone reaches the top. While Sherpas use their experience and knowledge to lead, they cannot take the hikers’ steps or absorb the pain of their blisters for them. Climbers who own the goal as their own see dramatically increased success. You can lead your team, but you want them to meet you halfway. To promote personal ownership, ask lots of questions so you can understand their goals and so they can start to recognize the ideas you have. It’s okay to use questions to lead them to improvement, but don’t push your own goals on them. Ask questions about what they’d like to focus on and why. Once they recognize something as their own, use your experience and knowledge to come up with a plan together.
Sherpas are intimately familiar, not just with the pros and cons of each route, but also with the terrain and required equipment. Rather than telling the climber what to do, Sherpas find out the climbers’ goals, tell them the requirements to get there, and then share options along the way. They might say, for example, “There are two common routes to the top. Each has its own advantages. If you take path one, we’ll have a lot of steep climbing and ice, but it will be less crowded. Path two is less technical, but it will take you twice as long.” Give your people sufficient information to make an educated decision, and then coach them based on their choice. I’m a control freak (most sales managers are) and I sometimes lack the patience to let people chart their own course. Unlike a flight instructor, though, who gives do-or-die instruction, my job is to know the goal and offer information and options about how to reach it.
Watch Jason's video here.
No matter how much you want it for them, each individual climber has to want the goal enough to put their own legs and stamina to the effort. We, as Sherpas, must lead them to their goal. Through collaboration, we will reach the top together.