Leading for Success




My last blog focused on the destructive effects that poor leadership can have on a team. This blog will look at how to achieve success through good leadership.

There is more to team success than leadership … team members do play a critical role … however, great leadership can make even a dysfunctional team great. How? Great leaders are very conscious in their approach and use what we at Summit Training call the “Deliberate Success” approach“.


Deliberate Success involves developing yourself into the great leader you want to become, while simultaneously helping those you lead develop into the great team you want them to become. In both cases it consists of three simple (and deliberate) steps: Vision, Action and Reflection.

  1. Create your VISION of success. This includes both the results you intend to get, and the values you intend to follow. Create a clear definition of success for your team and for yourself as a leader. It is not good enough to say you will be ‘high performing’ because that really has no meaning … or, rather, it can have any number of meanings. You need to be very specific as to the results and the culture that you want to have. After all, if you cannot define it, you cannot measure it. And, if you cannot measure it, you have no idea whether or not you are doing it. As Stephen Covey writes in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind”.
  2. Take ACTION. Make a deliberate, focused plan and implement it. These actions must be directly connected to your vision. Deliberate and specific actions are essential to success. You can just do what you do and hope for the best, or you can do the right thing and get your desired result. Make sure you schedule your actions. State what you will do, when you will do it, who you will do it with, why you are doing it and what you expect as results. Without this level of detail, there is a very high chance you will not follow through.
  3. Reflect. Without reflection, it is easy to lose your way, to stray off course toward some “shiny object” that catches your attention. Periodically ask yourself if you are achieving what you set out to do. Is your vision still the right one for you? Are you being who you said you would be? Are your actions getting you the results you had hoped for? If not, why not, and what do you need to change?

Great leaders will take this very deliberate approach to build a high performance team. While there is a great deal more to leadership than this, you can consider this the foundation.

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Special Announcement: Canada’s March to the Top


It is an honour to announce my participation in the True Patriot Love “March to the Top” expedition this October. True Patriot Love www.truepatriotlovefoundation.com was created to honour and support members of the Canadian military and their families. The March to the Top expedition will pair 15 wounded and ill Canadian soldiers with 15 civilian business leaders. Each civilian will be paying for the total cost of their partner soldier to participate in the expedition, and raising awareness and funds for the much needed work funded by True Patriot Love. These men and women have risked it all and sacrificed their chances for a “normal” quality of life, all in an attempt to defend democracy and pursue world peace. It is the least we can do to support them in their hour of need.

This team of climbers will trek to Everest base camp and then embark on a summit attempt on Island Peak. Amputations, burns, gunshot wounds and post traumatic stress disorder that they have endured in battle will add to the grueling challenges that they will face on the mountain.


My role will be as the Captain of the civilian team. Based on my previous mountaineering experience and my team building skills, I will endeavour to assist in the formation of this team, and to do my best to help each team member to stand on the summit of Island Peak. I will be blogging daily while on the expedition and you can follow along right here on this blog.

Joining us will be a documentary team from the CBC who will be filming the expedition. The documentary will be aired on CBC in January of 2013. The goal is to raise awareness of the challenges our soldiers face when returning from combat and peace keeping missions around the world www.cbc.ca/marchtothetop.

Part of my mission for this expedition is to raise funds for True Patriot Love. Please go to www.expeditionhimalayas.ca or contact me directly to learn more about this expedition and to make a donation as part of my goal to raise $10,000.00.


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The Role of Leadership in Mountain Success


Leadership plays a significant role in the overall team success for several reasons. Leaders, good ones at least, define the vision, mission, values, goals, roles, and expectations for the team. Referring to Tuckman’s stages of team development (Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing), these are all things that need to take place in the forming stage. This is the foundation from which all else will be built. Start with a shaky foundation and your team will crumble in the first storm. Build a solid base and your team can withstand great force.


Leaders are coaches and mentors; they help keep teams on track, remove barriers and prepare the ground so the team can perform unhindered.

Conversely, leaders can also create a toxic environment that leads to total team destruction and failure. Sometimes this is due to incompetence and sometimes leaders simply use bad tactics because they think they are right.

In my soon to be released book, Learning In Thin Air (the same title as my keynote), I share stories of good and bad leaders and the impact they had on overall team success.

On one of my first real big Himalayan expeditions I was unable to get any of my long-time climbing partners to join me. I was forced to sign on with a professionally led trip. This trip brought together a group of highly-experienced strangers with a common goal, and then added a team leader. We would not be using Sherpa support and our leader was not a guide, but someone there to coach and mentor us, and to help us navigate our way through the complex world of 8,000m climbing. Our leader did not lay a foundation of trust and communication, but actually alienated all of us, drove a wedge between team members and destroyed trust. There was no plan, no vision and no sharing of information. This very long story ends in epic failure. Not a single team member made it to the summit and it had nothing to do with skill, experience, fitness or weather. It had everything to do with the toxic environment created by our team leader and the resulting total breakdown of team function.

At the time I placed the blame solely on our leader. But, in time, I realized that my own inaction had also played a part in our failure. I had done nothing to counteract what was happening within our team. I just sat back and played the part of the helpless victim.

I learned immensely from this experience and have applied this learning to all future expeditions and in business as well. In my next blog, I will share a success that grew from this leadership failure.

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Does Inexperience Play a Role in Death on the Mountain?

This is a sensitive topic but, in my opinion, I would have to say yes. You may have noticed that this has been a common thread through all of my blog postings. I have told many stories of how inexperience creates issues on Everest.

Inexperienced climbers have a very narrow working window. When situations crop up that are outside of this window they are at a loss as to what to do. They can experiment and try to figure it out. But is Everest really the place for experimentation? This often ends in disaster, or requires the assistance of others. In my opinion, relying on the assistance of others as a back-up plan amounts to recklessly endangering your life and the lives of others. Is it fair that one climber loses his or her life, becomes injured or misses a summit bid just to rescue an inexperienced climber who should not have been there in the first place? As I have stated many times, I feel that every person on Everest should be experienced enough that they can be self-reliant in all but the most extreme circumstances. Yes, people will always get into trouble for various reasons. But, if you are experienced, when you do need help, it is often as a last resort.

The next question is what counts as experience for Everest. Once again, I can only state my opinion.

Climbing Everest requires such a variety of skills that it is impossible to learn them all when you arrive at the mountain. There may be a few specialized things that are unique to Everest, but everything else must be well-practiced ahead of time. For instance, I had never used oxygen before I went to Everest and it took me about an hour to adjust to it. When I first put on the mask, I was expecting a miracle, but this was unrealistic. With this “miracle” in mind, I pushed harder than I should have and I paid the price quickly. Out of breath, I ripped the mask off my face and vomited in the snow. Lesson learned. Once I got the hang of it, I loved it.

The required skills on Everest stem from every facet of climbing; rock, ice, big mountain, and aid. Therefore, I feel that each climber should be proficient in each of these disciplines before embarking on a climb of Everest. You do not need to be able to climb at a 5.13 level and lead an A4 pitch, but you should be a technically skilled climber. (If you do not know what 5.13 and A4 refer to, then you should likely not be going to Everest.) Many people may think these standards too high, but this is what I believe.

The use of technical skills needs to be so automatic that you can do them in an exhausted, sleep-deprived, calorie-deprived, hypoxic, wind-blasted, white-out, frozen-to-the-core state. This is the reality of climbing Everest and all big mountains. If you are not up to the task, bad things can happen. I believe that you need to prepare for the worst possible conditions and if you can survive them you are good to go. We all hope for perfect sunny, windless days, and it is amazing when we get them, but it is not smart to count on them.


The photo is of the Lhotse Face in a wind storm. It was extremely cold and the wind was fierce. Driving snow bit into any exposed skin. It became difficult to do anything. These were the conditions on my descent from Camp 3 after an acclimatization rotation. Because I had been in these situations many times before, it was well within my ability to handle. I actually thought it was fun and that it added excitement to an otherwise long slog of a climb. Others were not enjoying it so much. It took me about 1 hour to descend the face. Others took up to six hours. When I looked up the face from the bottom it was like a war zone. Climbers were hunkered down for protection, climbers were fumbling with gear, people were stumbling and making desperate moves on the ropes, and guides were working their butts off to get people down. Many, many climbers got frostbite that day. As I have said, Everest is not the place to learn how to deal with adverse situations.

My apprenticeship came over years of climbing. I have intentionally gone out in horrific conditions just to learn how I would react physically, mentally and emotionally. This way I learned my limitations. Anyone going to Everest should know their limitations and have a realistic understanding of what they need to know in order to be safe and successful on Everest. For me, this took about 20 years of climbing. Some can do it much faster, but this was my comfort zone.

The government of Nepal does not set the standards, and many guiding companies do not set standards either. So it is left up to each individual to decide if they have the experience and skills necessary for Everest. Everest is not just a ride at Disney in Florida. It is a big, bad and dangerous mountain. Play safe!

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Is Climate Change Impacting Safety on Everest?

I am not a scientist and I can only share my observations, insights and experiences on this topic. Based on what I have seen in the mountains, I would have to say yes, climate change is having a negative impact on safety in the mountains. After all, most mountains are simply large piles of rock held together by ice. When this ice melts, the force of gravity takes over and the mountain starts to shed its “skin”.


This year on Everest was reported as a “crazy weather” year. Most years on Everest can be described as such, but this year seemed to be even crazier than usual. The winter of 2012 was a dry one for the Everest region and the mountain saw very little snow. The warm temperatures of spring arrived earlier than normal and as the first teams were arriving at base camp in early March they could tell this was going to be an odd year. Odd on Everest is usually not a good thing.

“Dry” is how it was described. There was a lack of snow at base camp and this caused concern for what the conditions would be like higher on the mountain. The temperatures were also much warmer than usual, and this was causing a rapid melting of what snow and ice there was.

The implications of this on Everest are many. For starters, climbers must negotiate their way through the Khumbu Ice Fall, a labyrinth of towering ice blocks, to make their way to Camp 1. This maze of broken ice is extremely unstable at the best of times and has claimed many a life. As this mass of snow and ice slides off Mt Everest, large blocks dislodge, tumble and crash. If a climber happens to be in the ice fall when one of these behemoth blocks of ice decides to fall over, the end result is unavoidably tragic.

The Khumbu Ice Fall is one of the scariest sections on Everest to climb and yet it is unavoidable when climbing from Nepal. Climbers will pass through this section of the mountain 6-12 times and the Sherpa climbers will pass through it almost daily as they transport loads to the upper camps on the mountain.

To safeguard passage through the ice fall, climbers depart base camp in the middle of the night when temperatures are at their coldest. The theory is that the freezing temperatures will help “bond” the blocks in place. As the sun warms the air later in the day, these bonds start to melt and the ice fall becomes very unstable and a veritable mouse-trap maze.

As the first Sherpa and climbers were making their way through the ice fall this season they noticed that this year was different. The ice fall had an even more unstable and menacing personality than normal. Ice block collapses were common, and the constant movement in the ice fall made the route ever-changing and treacherous. The Sherpas were scared; and when the Sherpas get scared, the climbers take notice. Discussions began about the viability of safely climbing Everest this season.

Although the snowfall had been low, avalanches were still a great threat. Avalanches in the mountains can come from two main sources. The first is an unstable buildup of snow on a moderately sloping face. When the bond between the snow layers breaks the avalanche roars down the mountain. The second source is from what is called hanging seracs. These are massive blocks of glacial ice that cling to the side of the mountain. At some point gravity always wins this tug of war and the blocks fall with devastating force. Once again, warm temperatures cause the foundations of these seracs to weaken and eventually to fail. The Ice Fall and Camp 1 are surrounded by huge, imposing walls covered with avalanche potential.

Traditionally, climbers have been most afraid of the West shoulder of Everest. They have slowly migrated Camp 1 away from this and closer to what was considered the relative safety of the steep face of Nuptse. This year, the odds were against the climbers and a massive avalanche roared off Nuptse and steamrolled into Camp 1 destroying tents and injuring several climbers.

Meanwhile above Camp 2, the Lhotse face was firing rock and ice missiles at unsuspecting climbers. The Lhotse face has long been feared by climbers, but is usually stable from a rock fall and avalanche standpoint. This year the snow was not there to act as a bonding agent. As the jet stream parked its self over the mountain, ferocious winds began to dislodge rocks at frequent intervals. Anyone who ventured onto the face was playing Russian roulette and many climbers lost. Nobody was killed, but bones were broken and stitches were sewn.

The Yellow Band is an outcropping of rock just above Camp 3 and must be traversed on the way to Camp 4. Beyond that, there is another rock band that guards the way to the South Summit. Snow and ice are much easier to climb while wearing crampons than rock. Ascending these rock sections with crampons on is comparable to walking across a marble floor with metal golf spikes on. Your traction is limited at best. Due to the low snow these sections would be more difficult than usual.

All of these issues can be chalked up to climate change, and they were weighing heavily on the minds of the climbers. One expedition leader who was supporting a large group of over 100 climbers and Sherpa made the bold move to pull the plug and cancel the all his expeditions on Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. This was an unheard of move and it shook the community. Some agreed and some did not, but ultimately the decision was made in the face of danger with an extreme concern for safety.

Additionally there is photographic evidence that shows the retreat of the great glaciers of Everest and mountains around the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the climate is changing and that it is having dangerous consequences in the mountains.

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