Climbing Your Management Everest

Stretching oneself to the maximum can reveal what we are made of. Whether the subject matter is a test of mental strength or physical, it is exhilarating to overcome a daunting obstacle. Sir Edmund Hillary is celebrated for his perseverance in conquering Mount Everest. One of my LinkedIn contacts and an internationally known innovation resource is Gijs van Wulfen. Van Wulfen states that, in the 1950s, the route to Everest was closed by Chinese-controlled Tibet. Nepal allowed one expedition per year.

Sir Edmund Hillary had been part of a British reconnaissance expedition to the mountain  in 1951. The 1953 Everest expedition for which he is now famous consisted of a huge team of over 400 people. Expedition leader Hunt named two assault teams. Hillary and Norgay were the second assault team. The first team only reached the South Col, about 100 meters below the summit. Then Hillary and Norgay got their chance. They reached the 8,848-meter high summit, the highest point on Earth, at 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953.Mt Everest

Gijs says the following 10 management lessons came to mind as he read the Hillary accounts:

1. Passion. As a youngster, Hillary was a great dreamer, read many adventure books and walked many miles with his head in the clouds. He was unaware his passion for adventure would make him, together with Tenzing Norgay, the first man to set foot on the highest point on Earth.

2. Urgency. In 1952 the British heard that in 1954 the French had been given permission to attempt Everest. The British wanted more than anything to be first. The expedition just had to succeed.

3. Teamwork. Getting to the summit of Everest is all about teamwork. As Hillary wrote: “John Hunt and D Namgyal’s lift to the depot on the South-East Ridge; George Low, Alf Gregory and Ang Nyima with their superb support at Camp IX; and the pioneer effort by Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon to the South Summit. Their contribution had enabled us to make such good progress.”

4. Courage. The higher you get on Everest the more courage you need. At 7,800 meters Hillary wrote in his diary: “Even wearing all my down clothing I found the icy breath from outside penetrating through my bones. A terrible sense of fear and loneliness dominated my thoughts. What is the sense of this all? I asked myself.”

5. Test. On the 1951 reconnaissance expedition, team members tested oxygen equipment and did research on high-altitude physiology. The results of both studies were important in determining the right approach for Everest in 1953.

6. Initiative. While in India, Hillary read in a newspaper that the British were taking an expedition to the south side of Mount Everest in 1951. He contacted expedition leader Eric Shipton and suggested that a couple of New Zealanders could make a substantial contribution to the team. And they were invited!

7. Choices. The British Himalayan Committee replaced the 1951 expedition leader Eric Shipton with Colonel John Hunt, a climber. After eight failed attempts on Everest they needed someone to the top first, before the French would have their chance.

8. Overcome setbacks. Along the way there are always major setbacks. After finding a new route up Everest during the reconnaissance expedition of 1951, the British heard that the Swiss had obtained permission for two attempts on Everest the following year. The only thing the British could do was wait and see if the Swiss would succeed.

9. Competition. Hunt proposed that Evans and Bourdillon should use the closed-circuit oxygen equipment to reach the South Summit and Norgay and Hillary would push to the top with the open-circuit oxygen. The competition fueled the eventual success of Hillary’s team.

10. Luck. Hillary, a New Zealander, was lucky to qualify as a British subject and be invited to join the British team. Secondly, in 1952 the Swiss failed to climb Everest on their two attempts. 

How do you view these management lessons in light of your own organization’s efforts to be innovative and competitive?



My China Shop Needs No Bulls

Too many corporations put “bulls” in executive roles, and surprisingly hope for good things. Hard-nosed tactics may produce some short-term gains. Under the surface, employee engagement often suffers, which can spur greater turnover and undesirable business performance. Peter Friedes, founder of the management think tank Managing People Better, offers a parable to illustrate (below):

Roger the Bull

Roger always “tells,” rarely “asks.” He knows what he wants, demands it, and pushes everyone to adapt to his schedule and expectations. He believes that every second counts and does not view relationship-building as time well spent or a necessary activity for getting great work done.

He is not empathetic or understanding. He rarely changes his mind, even with new information. He operates solely on his own agenda, showing little or no interest in his employees’ opinions. He rejects suggestions quickly, as he knows others’ ideas won’t work. He easily confronts people, often using words that are harsh, strong, or judgmental. He can be arrogant, as if to say he has all the answers. He doesn’t trust his employees to do a good job, so he hovers and corrects them.

Roger doesn’t include others before making decisions. While he thinks he coaches his employees, his “coaching” comes across as demands. No one would call him nurturing or encouraging. His language and tone exude frustration and anger. He is extremely unpleasant to work for.

bull in china shopFriedes writes that, while Roger may have flourished as a department of one in the past, his lack of understanding of how to motivate others is a huge drawback to managerial effectiveness. What is recommended are two key skill sets:

  • Relating, which includes relationship-building activities such as asking, listening, including, coaching, and encouraging.
  • Requiring, which encompasses results-oriented activities such as setting expectations, focusing on goals, insisting on excellence, establishing appropriate controls, confronting performance issues, and asserting your views.

Read about Friedes’ experiences in trying to coach Roger-types:

Bulls are the hardest managers to coach. They typically don’t listen well. They often think they have the answers already. Over the years, I’ve tried the following messages, with limited success:

  1. “You are a results-oriented manager. But you would get far better results by asking, listening, including, coaching, and encouraging your people more often, and lowering the volume on how you demand and require of your people.”

  2. “You were an excellent, hard-working individual achiever. But now your success is measured by how well you let others achieve. This takes a different set of skills. Unless you develop these skills, you cannot be effective as a manager.”

  3. “Your goal is fine…to do a lot of excellent work and meet productivity objectives. But the manner you use to get results is damaging our business and sabotaging your career.”

  4. “Our top employees will not work for an over-Requiring, under-Relating manager very long. They will seek a more reasonable manager and leave or transfer. That will require you to start over with new people, lowering your productivity. Over time, the company will not want to give you any new people.”

  5. “You have taught your people to give you exactly what you want, but they no longer give you new ideas or suggestions for how to do things better. You have demotivated them, which is why you see them lacking.”

  6. “I know you don’t need to be liked. But you do need people to appreciate and respect being managed by you. You are not on track to get that respect.”

Since Bulls feel justified in their treatment of others, none of these statements are likely to produce changed behavior. However, being straightforward, according to Friedes, and saying “You are failing as a manager” or “You will be fired if this over-Requiring, under-Relating behavior continues.” may have the desired impact.

(Want to see how Bullish you are? Take a free assessment !)


Motivations From Branson’s Mom

Business leaders–whether of start-up or large businesses, should possess certain qualities in order to lead their organizations well. In the domain of emotional intelligence, these characteristics often include empathy, social skills, motivation, self awareness and self regulation. In a recent blog post on, the following question was asked:


Q: Is self-motivation an innate quality or is it something that can be learned and improved upon?
– Chris Prior, Liverpool, England


Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin (Records, Airways, Mobile, etc) offered the following response:

If you aren’t good at motivating yourself, you probably won’t get very far in business – especially as an entrepreneur. When you’re starting up a company and for the first couple of years afterward, there are a lot of long nights and stressful days, and the workload is heavy. You have to be able to give the job everything you’ve got every day, or it will easily get the better of you.

The ability to tap into your determination and grit is not just an innate skill. You can teach yourself to get up every day and try to keep a new business going despite long odds, partly by structuring your life and job to make sure you are working toward your larger goals.Branson Virgin Brands

(My mother) feels that shyness is very selfish, as it means you are only thinking of yourself, and so she was very insistent that I look adults in the eye and shake their hands, and carry on conversations with guests at dinner and at parties — no excuses. (She) also taught me to dive into situations even if I wasn’t completely sure about my own abilities, and then solve the problems that came up as I went along. When I was almost 12, she once sent me alone on a long bike-riding expedition to another town, knowing that I would be fine, but also that I’d have to find water and ask for directions along the way.

Before I left school at 16, I was already working on launching what became one of my first businesses, Student magazine. Then when my friends and I put ourselves in a position that forced the issue, by moving into a basement in West London that served as both our office and our living quarters, we really gave our magazine everything we had.

There were times when we struggled to pool together enough money to afford a proper meal — that in itself was a great motivator to follow through on calls to potential advertisers. In the larger picture, we were willing to live with such uncertainty because we wanted to give our generation a voice on issues that we felt strongly about, such as the Vietnam War; this shared goal meant a great deal to everyone involved.

It’s important to understand what your main motivation is so that you can focus your efforts on reaching those goals. Then structure your job – perhaps by delegating some work – so that you can spend as much time as possible turning this energy to your company’s advantage.

Above all, you should work on building a business you’re proud of. This has always been a motivator for me, from my Student magazine days, through to our latest start-ups today. I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If money is your only motive, then I believe you shouldn’t launch the business at all.

Once you know what your own motivations and aspirations are, talk to your employees and colleagues about theirs, if you haven’t already. Then structure their jobs in a way that allows them to tap into this energy, too. With you and your employees approaching your work with renewed energy and commitment, you’ll find that there’s little that you can’t accomplish together.

Good advice, indeed, from one of the most successful serial entrepreneurs on the planet. Branson understands what it takes to be successful. As you evaluate your own level of motivation and how you inspire others to be self-motivated, hopefully you can take notes from him on some best practices and the proper mindset.


What Raleigh Can Learn From Chengdu

Many groups of people have been trying to spur innovation in Raleigh, North Carolina. One in particular, Innovate Raleigh, has sought to unite the educational community with economic development and entrepreneurship. Conferences, forums, and meetups all have been convened to help identify what needs to be done to create an ecosystem that is comparable to other areas of extreme innovation across the United States. What about overseas? What can be learned from places like Chengdu?Innovation ball

Chengdu, with a population of 14 million, is the capital of Sichuan province. It is the city where paper money — a colossal innovation — first appeared in 1024. The printing of the Buddhist canons “Four Books” and “Five Classics” made Chengdu the early center in the art of printing.Rowan Gibson, the co-founder of Innovation Excellence, describes Chengdu’s spirit this way: “Innovative thinking is part of its history, and it is shaping its future.”

John and Doris Naisbitt, who are well known for global trends and futuristic studies, have recently written a new book, Innovation in China: The Chengdu Triangle.  They make the following observations:

Innovation in Chengdu is growing out of a strategically planned nourishing business environment and an entrepreneur-friendly administration in a stable social climate. Following the principles of a well-run company, Chengdu’s leadership combines management and business acumen with social consciousness and, to a much greater extent than we have ever seen in a Western local government, a service-oriented administration. A good example of innovative service are the quarterly meetings the  mayor holds, and in which every problem, request or complaints must be solved or dealt with within three days. The first meeting was held in March 2003 and meetings have been held without interruption since that time.

The first pillar of Chengdu’s reform is its wider focus which is not exclusive on industrial development, but on a whole range of investment attractions. 

The second pillar of Chengdu’s innovation model is to seek to enhance the allocation and efficiency of “intangible assets.” 

The third pillar of the Chengdu model is bilateral exchange.  

Chengdu is dedicated to beat its innovation drums faster, louder and more insistently on all fronts. But Chengdu is only one of China’s many ambitious and competitive cities. High Tech Parks are growing like mushrooms after a warm summer rain and lure with high wages and $150,000 moving grant for top executives. Top-talents find support in Incubation Centers. Mentors, seed capital, offices and technological equipment are part of the package. China’s “Thousand Talents Program” aims to bring back 2,000 talented Chinese paying salaries between 60,000 and 360,000 Euro. Up to the year 2020 China is dedicating 15 percent of its GDP to human resources.

As we look at ways to broaden the Raleigh economy to capitalize on the success of the Research Triangle Park, the major research institutions, and a highly educated workforce, the Chengdu model is enlightening. We have witnessed the high tech park approach as a key economic driver in our history, and are hopeful that the next evolution of RTP will benefit Raleigh as strongly as the first few decades. The emphasis on Incubation Centers is important. Raleigh needs many such centers of innovation. Thankfully, organizations like the HUB and EntreDot are addressing this need. EntreDot is, in fact, expanding beyond its Kindred Boutique for artisan entrepreneurs and opening a new innovation center in Lafayette Village tomorrow (January 17, 2013).

Innovation centers that offer programs that do not include a strong mentoring component do not prepare entrepreneurs and existing businesses to optimize their talents. Seed capital is needed, as are offices and access to the right equipment. However, the entrepreneurial education and mentoring are key. Finding a way to attract talent back to the area is another idea whose time has come. Even in biotechnology and emerging, fast-growth sectors, study after study has stated the need for more top talent to run world class organizations. Let’s apply some of the principles of Chengdu to our own market and spur even greater innovation!

Tremendous Entrepreneurial Success From Reading


Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, who is well-known in the insurance industry as a motivational speaker, believes in helping people improve themselves. His conviction for years has been that one must take responsibility for their own success. The quote below illustrates how he thinks one can best accomplish success in life:

You are the same today you’ll be in five years except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read. In every turning point and crisis of my life, there’s always been a book that helped me think and see more clearly and keep laughing and keep looking up and keep my mouth shut. I would never tell anybody I ever had a problem, so everybody always thought I was on top of the world, and yet I was just like everybody else with problems coming out of my ears. Now, when people come to my office, they come to talk to me. Instead of conversing with me like they think they are going to do, I get them reading. I pick out some great books and have each person read three or four sentences. I just received another email from a person recounting how his life was changed by learning the power of reading together–rather than talking.

As you may have read in a previous blog or Twitter post, I follow Matt Wilson, one of the co-founders, posted on the Under 30 blog today some insights he gained from reading books this year. A few excerpts are provided below, with Wilson’s comments.

  1. Who’s Got Your Back by Keith Ferrazzi  – Relationships should be about quality over quantity.  The goal should not be to “know everyone”.  Build a small group of people that want to go out and conquer the world together.
  2. Boomerang by Michael Lewis – Base your economy, your company, and your income on creating real value for others.
  3. Small Loans Big Dreams by Alex Counts – Entrepreneurship knows no borders or social classes.  Coupled with education and accountability, access to capital can create sustainable micro-businesses.
  4. 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene – “Disdain things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best revenge.”
  5. Startup Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer –  “Immigrants are not averse to start from scratch. They are by definition risk-takers. A nation of immigrants is a nation of entrepreneurs.”
  6. The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg – “The biggest thing you won’t learn in college is how to succeed professionally.”
  7. Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie –  It is truly possible to build a business both rich in profit and in social good.
  8. The Greatest Salesman In the World by Og Mandino –  “You were not created for a life of idleness.”
  9. Iceland, India, Interstate by Colin Wright – Go out there and LIVE.  Life is short, take advantage of it, and when you get a crazy idea–go for it.
  10. The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau – “If something is worth doing, you might as well do it all the way–so I’ve added ‘radical goalsetting’ to my own unconventional life planning.”
  11. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh – There will never be another 2013.  When Tony sold his first venture to Microsoft, he said there would never be another 1999, and went to work on his next act, passing up millions of guaranteed dollars if he had simply stayed with the company and let his shares vest… All to chase his passion.
  12. The 4 Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss – Whatever you want to do in life, think about how to hack the system, so you can compete with only the best.

Matt’s list was 17 items long. Since there are 12 months in the year, I condensed it to 12 books and corresponding lessons to be learned and applied. Hope you find a nugget to help now and a book to read later. May you be better in five years for having applied yourself to reading!