Leading Comments

Leading Comments / October 2001


I am grateful for the three hundred and twenty five subscribers (as of this writing) to Leadership Opportunity. Your support means that we can move together closer to a way of viewing and being in the world that is integrating, generative and supports our evolving integrity – learning to align our theory and our action. Also, I wish to express my gratitude to the many kindnesses, suggestions and offers of support Leadership Opportunity has received.

The mission of this e-journal is to be a practical guide to the application of an integral perspective to the challenges of leadership in business and life and to the effective relationship between executive/business coaches and their clients.

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Michael Useem, “The Leadership Lessons of Mount Everest,” Harvard Business Review, 79, 9, October 2001, pp. 51-58.

Leadership on Mount Everest? Sure. Why not? Michael Useem recounts the events of a program he organized: Wharton School MBA students, graduates and managers’ trek in the heights of the Himalayas in search of lessons of leadership.

“We made the trip to Mount Everest not because it could teach us things about leadership that we couldn’t have learned elsewhere but because the lessons there would have a far greater urgency.”

From this experience, four essential principles of leadership emerged:

Leaders should be led by the group’s needs.
They noted that leaders must subjugate their own needs to the needs of the group. This issue was highlighted when they had an audience with a Buddhist monk who offered them two principles of leadership:
Leadership is built by serving.
When leaders truly serve and subordinate their private welfare to that of all others, their authority often becomes unquestionable.
Inaction can sometimes be the most difficult – but wisest – action.
Climbing was risky and in the high altitude sickness may take the form of dizziness and disorientation. One executive experienced that, pushed on with the encouragement of the team, but his illness grew more intense. It took considerable discussion before the executive decided to return to lower elevation with the help of a Sherpa. The lesson? “.although leaders need to help people go for the highest achievement of which they are capable, they must also be keenly aware of the hazards ahead and take the necessary–and sometimes unappealing–steps to avert too grave a risk.”
If your words don’t stick, you haven’t spoken.
Failure to communicate sets the conditions for others to act–or not act–in a way that could be detrimental to achieving goals. There is a difference “between telling people something and delivering the message so that it really sticks.” In business this is a prime cause of failure to implement.
Leading upwards can feel wrong when it’s right
“Leadership is not just about mobilizing those below; it’s also about marshaling the people above. After all, everyone is fallible, and even the most experienced CEOs and other top executives have blind spots. Our responsibility, then, is to help them avoid the pitfalls that they haven’t seen. Of course, leading upwards often feels wrong because of the hierarchical culture prevalent in most companies, and it requires tremendous diplomacy and tact to avoid a political blunder that can derail or end a promising career.”

Like the trek on Mt. Everest learning, mastering and implementing leadership is an ongoing journey.

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Thanks for taking the time to consider this e-publication in a world of data overload. For leaders, collaborators, consultants, academics and coaches alike; I welcome you to some ideas and a dialogue that may benefit us all. I hope you will contact me soon with your idea, reference or article. Suggestions on improvement are welcome.
Russ Volckmann, PhD, Coaching Leaders in Business and Life
Email: russ@integraleadershipreview.com
Tel: 831.333-9200, FAX: 831.656-0110
Dedicated to Chris Newham with deep appreciation.
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