Sherpa Leadership: 5 Powerful Lessons

If you set out to climb Mt. Everest, one of the first things you do is hire a Sherpa.  Originally an ethnic group in Nepal, today a “Sherpa” is the common term used for the leader of a mountain climbing expedition.  In business terms, you are hiring a CEO to help you get to the top.

Thinking of yourself in the role of the Sherpa will help you become a stronger leader.  This is especially true today where leaders must empower their people, not just command them.  As I reflected on the treacherous and risky conditions endured by climbers, it reminded me of our current business landscape and the need for courageous and thoughtful leadership.

Here are five powerful lessons borrowed from those tough-as-nails, yet compassionate, expedition leaders:

1. Your real job is to lead others to the top. Sherpa’s are successful by helping those around them reach their full potential.  The same is 100% true for you as a leader in your own organization.  Ironically, the more you make it about others, the more individual success you’ll enjoy.

2. Detailed planning saves lives. If your Sherpa just looked up the mountain and just said: “Let’s go”, you’d sprint in the opposite direction.  Great leaders carefully plot out each step of their attack to ensure a safe ride.

3. Expect and prepare for setbacks.  Sherpa’s routinely deal with unexpected weather, animals, obscured paths, and many other obstacles.  Rather than becoming derailed, they build contingency plans and adapt in real-time.  Do you?

4. Walk with your team.  The role of a Sherpa isn’t to lead from afar.  Instead, these leaders climb the mountain right alongside their teams.  As a result, trust is built and success is achieved.  You can’t ask your team to jump through fire unless you’re willing to do it too.

5. Become a great listener.  To reach the summit, Sherpa’s must carefully listen on many fronts.  They need to truly understand input from their team, the basecamp crew, and other hikers.  They also need to hear rapidly changing weather reports, advice from other Sherpa’s, as well as the latest advances in their field.  Are you so busy talking that you fail to listen to others?  Great leaders listen intensely and speak thoughtfully.  Quite the opposite of the typical blowhard boss.

The old-school ways of barking orders from afar, thinking you have every right answer, shooting from the hip, refusing to adapt, and putting yourself first have been rendered totally ineffective in today’s fiercely competitive economy.  However, if you embrace the ways of the ancient Sherpa, you may just end up reaching that rarified air sought by many but enjoyed by few.  It’s time to reach your own summit by shifting your approach.

No ropes or helmet required.