Lessons from Everest: Back your expertise

Last week I was in California for a conference. As I
live in Melbourne, this entailed a 14 hour flight each way to reach LA.
My flight time was taken up with watching movies.

 

One of the movies I watched was


Everest
; the
dramatised account of the disaster that occurred on Mt Everest on 10 May
1996 that led to 8 climbers losing their lives as they descended the
mountain into an oncoming storm. The climbers included leaders of two
commercial guiding companies and their clients.

 

I was familiar with the story as I had read


Into Thin Air

by Jon Krakauer (Villard Books, 1997). Krakauer, a journalist, was one
of the clients who survived the disaster. He subsequently wrote about
the event for Outside magazine; the article providing the foundation for
the much longer, Into Thin Air book.

 

Rob Hall was the owner of Adventure Consultants, one
of the commercial guiding companies that guided clients to the summit on
the fateful day of the storm.

 

His instruction to his whole team was ‘2pm is the
turnaround time’. This was in order to provide sufficient time to
descend before oxygen, supplies and sunlight all ran out.

 

On 10 May 1996, there were 33 climbers attempting to
summit Everest. This caused long bottlenecks at various points of the
climb. Due to these delays, and the number of Adventure Consultants
clients who were a few hundred metres short of the summit at 2pm, it
wasn’t until 3pm that the descent began.

 

At around 5pm a blizzard hit the mountain. Hall was
helping one of his weaker clients, Doug Hansen, at the rear of the
descending climbers. Exhausted and disoriented, they attempted to wait
out the blizzard but Hansen died during the night. Hall, out of bottled
oxygen, and exhausted from helping Hansen, had no shelter or food.
Weather conditions the following day made a rescue attempt too risky.
Hall, in radio contact with his base, knew he would die. The base camp
radio operator patched Hall through to his pregnant wife in New Zealand.
They had a conversation that both of them knew would be their last. Hall
did not respond to subsequent radio communication and his body remains
on Mt Everest.

 

Hall’s deadly mistake was, under the pressure of
getting his clients to the summit (they each paid Hall’s company around
USD$65,000 as a guiding fee), he broke one of his own non-negotiable
rules about how to leave Nepal alive, whether you had summited Mt
Everest, or not: Hall failed to enforce the 2pm descent.

 

Why Hall failed to follow his own rule, we will never
know. What we do know is that his decision cost him his life, and
indirectly the lives of other people in his professional care. In the
face of his clients’ burning desire to reach the summit, Hall changed
his mind.

 

There’s a lesson in this for all skilled and
knowledgeable professionals: back your expertise. Know when to enforce
‘the way things should/must be done’. Your expertise is hard won; don’t
allow less knowledgeable and less skilled people talk you around, or use
inappropriate or unethical emotional leverage.

 

You won’t lose your life, but your self-respect and
credibility are both at stake.

2 Comments

  1. Law Nnaji on 30/01/2016 at 9:34 am

    "Know when to enforce ‘the way things should/must be done’. Your expertise is hard won; don’t allow less knowledgeable and less skilled people talk you around, or use inappropriate or unethical emotional leverage." Ross, thank you very much. A most brilliant admonition to all us; every recruiter working a desk, team leader and even the business owner.

    • Ross Clennett on 31/01/2016 at 10:44 pm

      Thanks Law, I am sure many recruiters can ruefully remember (as I can!) when they have given in to client, or candidate, on an issue that they know they should have stood firm on.

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