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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Shared Vision and Goals

I found this document on line and found it very inspiring. I think it is an important message for Project managers since they must constanly get their project teams to agree to a shared vision and be willing to be flexible as conditions change.

Author Unknown

The Best-laid Plans

Climbing the world's highest mountain under normal circumstances requires months, sometimes years, of preparation. In May 1996, Breashears and his team faced a special challenge: making an IMAX film about their journey. Carrying and maintaining hundreds of pounds of filming equipment meant that planning was even more meticulous than usual. "We went to that mountain with a great plan, an elegant plan," said Breashears. For one, it was flexible. "A good plan makes you nimble, not stuck. Ours gave us options ... wiggle room." By rehearsing extensive "what if" scenarios long before they got to the mountain, the team was ready for the unexpected. So when a freak storm hit the day they were to approach the summit, Breashears' team turned back while other teams kept climbing. With the summit just within reach, the temptation to go on was enormous, Breashears recalled, especially since the team had already spent weeks on the mountain, passing through all four base camps and acclimatizing their lungs to the thin air. Yet, as Breashears noted, "We had to climb on the mountain's schedule, not ours," an acknowledgment that probably saved his life.

As Breashears' team went back down, they passed several other teams on their way up. By nightfall, eight people had perished, including Rob Hall, a world-renowned climber and friend of Breashears. Hall was leading a group of individuals who had paid him a substantial fee to lead them to the top. Jon Krakauer, a writer and outdoorsman who was on Hall's team, would eventually write the best-selling book Into Thin Air, chronicling in heartbreaking detail what had gone wrong.

Among the tragedies of that day was one event that many later described as a miracle. The storm that had hit as Hall's ill-fated team made its ascent caused many of the climbers to become separated. One small group was in desperate trouble: They had lost their way in the blinding snow and had run out of oxygen. In an attempt to save their own lives, they made the difficult decision to leave behind one of their team members, Beck Weathers, a doctor from Texas. By all accounts, Weathers was already close to death. He had no pulse and appeared to be frozen in the ground.

The next morning, however, as Breashears and his team helped with the rescue efforts for those teams still on the mountain, word came on the walkie-talkie that "the dead guy is alive." Weathers had spent the night in sub-zero temperatures fully exposed to the elements. The next morning, as the sun hit the mountain, he awoke from a hypothermic coma and, despite snow blindness and severe frostbite on his hands and feet, managed to stumble into camp. He was eventually flown off the mountain in a helicopter rescue that had its own share of danger and drama.

Having reached the summit of Mt. Everest five times, Breashears knows what he wants in a team. Surprisingly, he's not necessarily looking for the best climbers. "I look for talented people who believe in their craft, not those who are looking for praise," he said. "The most important quality is selflessness. I knew that no matter what, no one would leave me behind," he joked.
Sharing a common goal and vision is critical, and no one's ego can take precedence. "People who say 'me first' can be dangerous on Everest." Indeed, in Breashears' experience, the teams that operate best have a higher objective than themselves. Humility makes a great leader. "The kind of leader I want wakes up and asks, 'What did I do wrong yesterday, and how can I fix it today?' Your team doesn't need to like you, but they have to trust and respect you," he said. "A leader who puts his interests first is a highly demoralizing force."

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