Monday, April 30, 2012

Leadership on Top of the World

Himalayas : Climber in Himalayan mountain
Himalayan range
I had the great privilege to attend a presentation featuring Ed Viesturs a short while back. Throughout this class I have been taking a much needed human-focused approach to understanding servant leadership. But Viesturs reminded me leadership can also be in service to mountains, communities and legacies. Viesturs is a humble man who has climbed the 14 highest peaks of the world without supplemental oxygen, been part of 30 expeditions without a death or serious illness attributed to his name or any team he has been on and spent 18 years dedicating his life to reach his final Himalayan mission: Annapurna. 

annapurna himalaya
To walk away from this fierce region with all your digits, your sanity and many life-long friends one must quickly recognize the many leadership qualities inherent in Viesturs. A leader is rarely this lucky, so there must be something underneath the surface. To begin with Ed brings some personal qualities to the table which are worth cultivating: conservative decision making, trust your intuition, be passionate about what you do, be committed to your passion, temper ambition with patience and most of all enjoy the journey. It's hard to say if Viesturs developed these traits before mountaineering or while mountaineering but one thing is for certain Ed has faced the toughest challenges and come out a remarkable servant leader.

Again and again Ed mentioned how he listened to the mountain. The mountain always told him if the conditions were right. Sure one can analyze weather reports, gauge the density of snow and ice for forthcoming avalanches and trust in established routes, but Ed went deeper. Ed is truthful in that he doesn't like to leave things unfinished. His writing partner spoke on Ed's behalf stating in the past if Ed has made it to a false summit of even 40 feet and has to turn around he does not count it, and he will go back. Viesturs attempted Annapurna three times before he was successful. In his heart he even asked himself if he could let it go, but on his third trip he listened to the mountain and found his window of opportunity.

Viesturs journey is inspiring. He is one of the most genuine and humble speakers I have come across. Then again, I think he has little to prove and spends his time on his passions--which frankly makes him or anyone rather endearing. To me he is an excellent example of servant leadership on a global level. He has persevered for his own sake yet he has regularly sacrificed summits for the safety and well being of others, he has willingly paid descending Sherpas to collect spent oxygen tanks and he has shared his vast skill and intellect to teach about gentle, caring strategy. Ed Viesturs may have climbed and descended the world's 14 highest peaks, but as far as I'm concerned he is still on top of the world.

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