Articles from Cass Knowledge

Climbing the highest peak in Indonesia to test my leadership skills

Taking the lead

These principles alone intrigued me and I was keen to experience this learning outside of the typical ‘office environment’ where the rules are relatively familiar even if there is change.  The adventurer in me was certainly up for putting myself in an unfamiliar situation.

Mount Fansipan is the highest mountain in Vietnam and the Indochina peninsula, located in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.  As you make the climb – and if you are in any state to enjoy it – the views are incredible; the climb is well worth the effort just for this.

The expedition is segmented into two: a day trek in SaPa, climbing through rice paddy fields; followed by a climb to the summit of Mount Fansipan.  Our expedition leader, Fernando Yáñez, made us organise ourselves, so that we all had the opportunity to lead during the trek. With 11 in the group, it was a shared leadership endeavour and particularly pertinent when operating in an unfamiliar environment.

My opportunity to lead came on the first day of trekking up Mount Fansipan.  As a complete trekking novice and urbanite, the experience was enlightening and stretching, both mentally and physically. It is amazing how far the journey can take you physically and mentally in three days.

For all us there were different lessons and it is fantastic how one experience can add different dimensions to our individual and team learning.  Some of my key learnings from this experience, which could translate into any business environment are as follows:

  1. Communicating with others was fundamental to motivate, keeping spirits up so that the next step is not impossible to take.  In these times, humour and fun were integral to maintaining morale.  Instructing and sharing information to ensure team progress and decisions provided confidence and belief that we would make it!
  2. Being decisive was key in some of the situations we were in.  This isn’t just because we were empowered due to the position we were given, but required an actual willingness to take on the risk of decision making with the information we had.  In a situation where there is shared leadership, it was important to minimise debate, forget about egos and make decisions best for the group.
  3. Teamwork – it goes without saying that being a leader you are also part of a team and recognising the strengths that others bring.  As the leader, it is fundamental to ensure you are drawing on these individual strengths so the team is positioned to do the best it can

Making it to the summit

Empowering others to take on responsibility and roles became important to share the workload.  With the guidance of our expedition leader, we came to realise how little data and information we had to begin with and we needed to find a way of tracking progress such as pace and time, organise sufficient breaks on that basis and discuss these with the guide to make effective decisions.  By allocating roles that helped us collate this information, we were able to achieve this.

Courage and humility underpin it all.  There will be times as a leader we will not know enough about the terrain in front of us and there will be moments of self-doubt.  Our companies could undergo a merger or acquisition, have a new or unknown CEO at the helm or be going into a major efficiency drive.

The best that we can do is accept this situation quickly and adapt so that we can help our teams and individuals around us. With integrity and honesty, we can share what we do know and with humility to accept our limitations in such situations, asking for the help that we need to be better leaders.

And of course, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that with your team you have managed to achieve your goals.