I happened to listen to the talk from Apa Sherpa organized by NHRDN Mumbai and two other Sherpas who have in a way conquered Mt Everest by cracking the enigma of scaling its awe inspiring altitude not just once but multiple times. Apa has been successful in scaling Mt Everest 21 times. I am as far removed from mountaineering as he might be from probably what I am into. But its not so difficult for me to imagine what kind of an adventure it must be. Sherpas are basically natives of the mountains who have braved their lives to scale the Everest and now they share their knowledge and efforts with people who want to realize similar dreams. In a way they are leaders amidst the mountains.
His story is about someone who is humility personified and comes from a very struggling background. He grew up amidst difficulties and drew his strength from the experiences that he encountered as a result of those difficulties.
Lets look at what Apa Sherpa is not? He is not flamboyant, he is not verbose, he is diminutive, he maintains a low profile and if you meet him along the road, you won’t find any halo over his head. Yet what makes him a prolific leader is worth reflection.
Few things that struck me about Apa Sherpa:
1. His leadership is about DOING: He is not a great story teller who will talk to you about metaphors drawing Sun Tzu type analogies between war and business or mountaineering and business. He has never dived into the topic of business parallels to quote instances from the industry.He has done what is considered one of the most difficult feats and everyone reveres him for that. One can’t read a book to scale up the mountains. There is no book that can equip one to the feeling that one can get on base camp 4 where they say temperatures go as low as minus 40 degrees celcius with wind velocity close to 200km/hr.
If you are on the mountains and you need to know where you have to go, just listen to him.
He is going to be your leader there.
2. When we do something multiple times, we make it appear even simpler: You scale a danger once and you are somebody to listen to and you make a habit of scaling up dangers and you become an expert at it for anyone to approach you. Thus when leaders repeat their performance, it doesn’t translate into monotony because in those multiple experiences they are proving that it may not probably be as difficult as you think it is.
Also when he was asked about whether he also finds mountaineering monotonous after having done it so many times, his answer was- if you are monotonous in your cubicles come to the mountains for trekking. It seems that he is naturally aligned to what he is doing. The motivation is completely intrinsic. His message is his life as Gandhiji famously remarked.
3. A child of hardships: Apa lost his father at a tender age of 12 and then he had to support his family for a living. He had to drop off from school and become a porter which made him carry more weight than his own body weight. He laughingly states that probably that may have hampered his height since he appears not more than 5 ft few inches. He struggled his way after that and only after a few years the same capacity to carry more weight than his body along the heights became a vital quality which is a prerequisite of a Sherpa. Thus when we try something unique in the middle of difficulties, it can become one of greatest differentiating strengths of ours. We should try to listen to the lessons of difficulties with patience.
4. Contextual nature of leadership- As outlined above, Apa’s leadership is what it takes to be a leader in those terrains. It is different from a business or political leadership. He is driven by feelings and connects to people along their aspirations. He has some very prolific young people from Asia Trekking company who deeply respect his greatness and value that he brings to the lives of people for whom scaling Mt Everest matters a lot. He doesn’t appear to be a person who would get ruffled up quickly and that is such a vital trait when they are meeting trekkers from various parts of the world who may have risked a lot in their aspiration to scale up the mountain. Thus leadership qualities vary as per the demands of the situation in which you are required to lead. There is no fixed template for it. Probably that’s what makes it such an enigma.
We salute you Apa for your attainments and probably your persona that those attainments have given shape to.
Guess we all in our own domains of work can figure out models of excellence in our conduct and become shining examples like Apa. His story left me to think about ‘What was my Mt Everest’. Do you know yours?