The Energizer

Resilient Insights for Work & Life

From the World’s Highest Mountains-Lessons for Leaders

by Eileen McDargh, Chief Energy Officer - Monday, December 16, 2019
Featured Image

One of Carl Jung’s favorite words was “synchronicity”, that unexplainable convergence of unplanned events which offer insights and opportunities. When I agreed to join a trekking expedition through two remote provinces of the Indian Himalayas, I had no way of knowing that this adventure would coincide with the publication of my book, Gifts from the Mountain-Simple Truths for Life’s Complexities. Ah, synchronicity!

One of the benefits of being a continual learner is that we are constantly overtaken by ah-hah moments which serve to not only whack us on the side of the head, but also hold lessons which can have universal application for anyone in leadership.

The following are but some of the principles gleaned as our group drove along the highest roads in the world and wound up in the regions of Lahual and Spiti which are often closed to the outside world for seven frozen months. They come from trekking with tribesmen herding sheep and goats at elevations up to 16,000 feet and from crossing white water rivers on foot and encountering the Dalia Lama in a remote monastery near the China/Tibet border.

Watch for patterns. Different trees grow at different elevations.
  The apple trees of the Kullu Valley could no more have survived at Rohtang Pass then a trout could swim at the North Pole. The natural world allows for adaptation but only to a point. As leaders, we must know where we belong, what adaptations we can make, and then how to help those around us find the best match for their growth and abilities. Ankit Sood, our wise guide, demonstrated this principle during the trek. As the journey became more difficult, he voiced his concern in such a way that it allowed all of us to gracefully examine our skill levels. Four of our party self-selected to not continue when the trekking became more difficult and demanding on both a physical and emotional level. That’s wisdom and courage on display. Had they continued, it might have caused harm to themselves as well as to the rest of the group. Ankit, as our leader, paved the way for that decision yet was also prepared to take them to a lower elevation had they insisted on continuing. A leader gives the follower a chance to evaluate his own performance but is also prepared to make the difficult decision of transferring or terminating an employee. When an employee is not able to do the job at hand, it damages the morale and the performance of a team if that employee is left to struggle in work that does not match competency or innate potential.

Expect the unexpected and deal with it.
  Change is one thing. The unexpected adversity or opportunity is something else. Great leaders live in the present moment and make decisions based upon what is before them.. As we climbed higher into Spiti, the Himalayan cold semi-desert region that has been described as one of the highest, most remote and inhospitable places on the planet, Ankit learned that the Dalia Lama would be teaching at a monastery in the village of Nako. To venture to Nako meant changing plans on a dime, jumping through mounds of bureaucratic paperwork, and going through time-consuming checkpoints. However the chance to see a world leader in a special setting was an unexpected opportunity not to be missed. The same is true in the business world. Had 3M ignored an engineer’s idea that a less-than-sticky glue could be useful, the world would never have known Post-It-Notes(tm). Had Larry Page and Sergey Brin not paid attention to the unexpected response to their simple search engine methodology, the word “Google” would not have become a common word in our vocabulary.

The more critical the effort, the more teamwork is required.
  The rivers of the western Himalayas cascade from melting glaciers. At night, when the glaciers freeze, water level is reduced. The timing of a crossing is critical as water rises along with the sun. Rocks and debris swirl into tumultuous rapids. Crossing alone can be suicidal. We created a human chain, grasping each other by wrists (not hands) and alternated smaller team members with larger ones. We succeeded, cold and battered, but safe. How often do we encounter the leader or employee who insists on “going it alone” in a critical situation? To ask for help is perceived as a weakness. Yet, it is the strength of collective brains and maybe even brawn that can produce a better result. Equally important is knowing how to optimize the varying strengths of team members for the best results. The adage of “strength in numbers” bears consideration.

Action is the antidote for anxiety.
  We made it in time to cross the dangerous river that had already claimed six lives. But other members of our expedition crew were not so lucky. Their pace had been slowed by rounding up pack horses. In horror we watched these men attempt three times to cross, spinning against rapids and almost drowning. There was no choice but to stay on the granite rocks and wait until early morning. I could see the anxiety in the eyes of our leader. While we hiked ahead to make camp, he devised a plan. With another team member, he filled a water proof barrel with food, warmer clothes and a small tent. He hurled a rope to the stranded crew and together they created a pulley system for retrieving the barrel. While everyone was still concerned, taking action provided some comfort. Hand-wringing never accomplishes anything. Action gives a level of control over what, at face valuable, might seem uncontrollable. A leader helps people take that action.

Everyone deserves to be welcomed home.
  When the stranded crew appeared over the horizon at day break, we cheered, sang and welcomed them “home”. Their faces glowed with a sense that we weren’t just customers to serve, managers to follow, but rather individuals who cared for their well-being. They redoubled their efforts to work for us in the days that followed. There’s universality in wanting to be welcomed and cheered. Whether in the remote regions of India or the meeting rooms of Wall Street, employees deserve to feel that someone has seen their effort, their hard work and their long hours. The degree of engagement and retention might increase exponentially if leaders welcomed them “home”.

Gratitude transcends latitudes
.  Regardless of nationality or geography, humans everywhere respond to expressions of gratitude Not only do we seek a place where we are welcomed, but our spirits rise when others let us know that we matter. The more personal the expression, the deeper is the human connection. While it is customary to pool monies and give a bonus to the trekking crew, our expedition wanted to extend a more intimate thank-you. After all, these men had put our well-being ahead of their own. They paid attention to our personal needs, even found a way to bake a cake at 15,000 feet when they discovered that two of us had birthdays. Our solution was to gift them with personal items we knew could be used by themselves or their families. My new Timberland boots, thermal jacket and ski hat went into the box along with my husband’s favorite space-aged parka. Our party left gloves, socks, medicines, thermals, and even unopened bags of trail mix and jerky brought from home.

We gave money to have everything cleaned and restored if need be. When gratitude comes from the heart, is personal, unexpected, and out-of-the-ordinary, amazing linkages are created. The gifts demonstrated that we had observed their life, their needs, and responded appropriately. Spontaneous appreciation that recognizes the uniqueness of an individual beats standardized reward programs any day. As for our band of intrepid explorers, my expedition partners who were strangers until we gathered at Chicago O’Hare for the fifteen-hour flight to New Delhi, we’ll continue our relationships that were forged with shared experiences. You might say we have created a new company through collaboration, cooperation, and consideration. That’s not a bad final lesson to carry into our respective places of work.

Share This Post

Like this post? Please share it!

< Back to All Posts


Eileen McDargh Keynote Speaker Blog Author

About Eileen!

Since beginning her consulting and training practice in 1980, Eileen has become noted for her ability to speak the truth with clarity, wisdom, humor and compassion. Long-standing clients and repeat engagements attest to her commitment to make a difference in minds, hearts and spirits of organizations and individuals. She draws upon practical business know-how, life's experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from health care associations to religious institutions. Executive Excellence magazine selected her as one of the top 100 thought leaders in leadership and among the top ten consultant providers of leadership development.

View all posts by Eileen

Subscribe to My Blog!

Like My Blog?

Please share it!

Recents Posts




work life balance Sexual Harassment Sales Talk Ain't Cheap Book civil discourse LGBTQ The Last Jedi Trust Fun Work Environment Idea Corporate Culture Meetings cancer Human Interaction Mark Scharenbroich Empathy Superbowl Energy Burnout Napping Walk For Hunger Nursing St. Patrick's Day Climate Change Charity employees Dogs employee retention Listening Leadership Skills earthquakes Engaged Workers Strangers Travel Faith Mother's Day Joy Married Resolutions Twas The Night Before Christmas Relationships Humanity Diversity resilience Deloitte Back To School Hurricane Irma WASP Voting Vegan Environtment Conversation Henry VIII Leaders Open Doors Book Option B gratitude Technology Adaptability Sheryl Sandberg holidays Your Resiliency GPS Interview Guns Thanksgiving customer service Road Trip Ownership John Havlik Ecotourism Change Requisite Variety Siblings love Bullying John Mattone Networking Soft Skills angels Stress Hurricane Harvey Children Art U.S.A.A. Aging Learned Optimism Radical Resiliency Volunteer Arlington Cemetary Time Management Play Loneliness Spirit waiting Animals Speaking Politics USAA Communication Boston Marathon Writing preresilience Yoga Adventure Kindness Office Celebrations Connection Disruption Content Generation coaching Laughter Humor John Blumberg women in leadership Breathe Book Reviews Breath Social Media Divorce Alzheimer's Loss goals Sleeping Christmas Spelling Bee Reshaping the Brain Positive Brain Repatterning Gifts From The Mountain Seder Eve resiliency Exercise resilient leaders Tornadoes in Texas Optimism Postive Work Environment creativity Bill Treasurer Words Memorial Day Energizing More Fun at Work Jewish Marriage Persuasion Employee Attitude resilient organizations Intentions Motivating Others Feedback Women Suddenly Single Emotional Intelligence Sustainability e-mail Vacation Disrupt New Year resolutions Multi-tasking Energizing Others Depression Career Advice ecology conscience Adam Grant Survive Building Resilience teams Happiness Compassion Family Branding Patriots Honoring Veterans