Personal Effectiveness – The View from Everest

There are many opinions on what it takes to be personally effective. Here, a view from the top of the world offers another perspective. The same perspective can be applied to your effectiveness at lower altitude – read on to find out how…

At 8,848 metres, roughly the altitude at which jet aeroplanes fly, Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. On 23rd May 2008, at 6.30am, I stood on its summit!

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The climb of Everest is a good test of personal effectiveness because it is such a challenge to climb. Everest was first climbed in the year that Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, 1953, by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing. Less than 3,000 people have ever been to the summit and there is a reason – it’s hard work and potentially dangerous. For every 10 people that have summitted Everest one person has died. Above 8,000m is called the death zone because you can’t survive for more than a few hours due to the extreme cold and lack of oxygen in the atmosphere. You have to be effective to get to the top.

You’ll know that many authors have defined Effectiveness as “Doing the right things” (and Efficiency as “Doing things right”), so my blog is about doing the right things. I want to use my experiences, during this expedition to Everest, to illustrate, what I call, the 3 Ps of Effectiveness:

Purpose
Perseverance
People

1.Purpose

So what are the right things around Purpose?

Everyone needs a sense of purpose – the reason for doing something (that answers the ‘why’ question). It’s that sense of purpose that gets you going in the first place. Goethe said “What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”. The boldness to begin comes from a sense of purpose and you have to be bold to climb Everest.

So, why did I climb Everest? What was the Purpose?

Well, for me, I had a dream from an early age of climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents (‘The Seven Summits’) and Everest just happens to be one of them (highest in Asia). I also read many books on the early attempts on Everest that inspired me. I had spent many years imagining what it would be like to climb Everest and building a personal commitment to it. This was to be the culmination of many years climbing in mountains around the world.

The learning down at lower altitudes is that, if we are to be successful at a difficult and challenging undertaking, then we need to have a Purpose to get started, to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Entrepreneurs find that purpose when they have an idea but where do the rest of us find that sense of Purpose? It really is important to find Purpose in our work if we are be fully engaged and therefore effective.

2. Perseverance

To be successful, people need to persevere; success doesn’t always happen instantly or without effort.

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On summit night there is every reason to turn back: it’s very cold, tiring and dangerous. Of the eight people in our team, five turned back! What gave some the Perseverance to push through the pain and others not? The Purpose has to be big enough to find the strength to Persevere but I also enjoy climbing at altitude because it energises me. This may appear surprising and is more mental than physical – it’s mentally uplifting.

Strengths are well documented in the world of positive psychology. The definition of a Strength is something that, firstly you are good at and, secondly something that energises you. This is important when it comes to the second P. The energy to Persevere has to come from somewhere.

There is a line in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’ that I love “So where does the strength come from to see the race to it’s end, it comes from within and when I run I feel god’s pleasure.” Now, I’m not religious but I can still relate to this. I feel pleasure from pushing myself at altitude with the beauty of the mountains around me.

Perseverance also comes from experience. It is easier to Persevere when you are less out of your comfort zone – you have the confidence that everything will be alright. This comes from similar experiences on other mountains.

The learning down at lower altitudes is that we should seek out tasks that play to our strengths, tasks that energise us as that will help us to Persevere through challenging times. It also helps to have experience so that the stretch isn’t quite so great.

3. People

People are the third key to effectiveness. We can only achieve so much on our own.

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Massive credit should be given to the Sherpas; the local guides and porters who carry equipment up the mountain to the high camps and who are close by on summit day. Even more important is the relationship of trust you develop with your climbing partner.

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For me, this was Pete with whom I tent shared throughout the expedition. We were both as committed to summiting as each other, were of a similar pace and on summit night kept each other going alternately when the other tired. It was this teamwork which helped us both to Persevere and made the whole experience more enjoyable. It is so hard to reach the summit that you have to overcome your own mind and body to make it and it’s much easier when you share the experience with a like minded team member.

The parallel in business is you need the right support team and the right partners or coaches or mentors to be effective.

Edmund Hillary who was the first to summit Mount Everest in 1953 said:

“In conquering the mountain we conquer ourselves”

I really believe this to be the case and it’s the same in business. You could say “in conquering the challenging objective we must conquer ourselves”. We must connect to the purpose of what we are doing, we must align ourselves with our strengths and experience or both. Finally, we must gather the right support team around us and partner with or receive coaching from someone we trust.

Do you have a clear Purpose? Are you sufficiently aligned with your strengths and experience to Persevere? Do you have the right People around you?

How does the view from Everest translate into your work? Please let us know by adding a comment in the box below.

Look out for next month's blog on Business Partmering – Weighing Up the Client.

Posted by Mark Procter

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