Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to embark on my first Himalayan expedition at Hampta Pass, near Manali in Himachal Pradesh. This five-day trek was not just a physical journey but also a profound inner exploration that transformed my understanding of my strengths and limitations. Above all, it provided invaluable lessons in leadership and team building, which were most vividly illustrated at the Shea Goru campsite on the final day of our hike, when we crossed the Chandra River barefoot.

The Shea Goru campsite is nestled in the Lahul Valley, at the foothills of the Indrasan Mountains, which harbour the vast Chandra Glacier. The river, originating from the glacier, is icy cold and knee-deep. As we crossed the river as a team, I learned several critical lessons about leadership and teamwork that will remain etched in my memory.

1. Listen to Your Leader or Trek Guide

In the wilderness, especially in challenging environments like the Himalayas, the expertise and experience of the trek leader or guide are invaluable. Our guide had traversed this path numerous times and knew every nuance of the terrain and the river crossing. By listening to him, we could avoid potential dangers and make informed decisions. Leadership is not just about giving instructions but also about inspiring confidence and trust. Our guide exemplified this by providing clear, concise instructions and reassurances, making us feel secure and capable. This experience reinforced the importance of listening to those who have the expertise and experience in any leadership scenario, whether in the wilderness or the boardroom.

2. Cross the River Early in the Morning

Timing is crucial in many aspects of life, and this was particularly evident during our river crossing. Our guide advised us to cross the river early in the morning when the water level was at its lowest due to the reduced glacier melt. This lesson taught me the importance of planning and timing in leadership. Just as crossing the river at the right time can make a significant difference, so can seizing the right moment in business or personal endeavors. Leaders must have the foresight to choose the optimal times for critical actions to ensure success and safety.

3. Prepare Your Legs with Relevant Exercises

Before we embarked on the river crossing, our guide instructed us to perform specific leg exercises to prepare our muscles for the cold and the strain. This preparation was vital for ensuring that our legs could endure the icy water and maintain balance on the slippery riverbed. This step highlighted the importance of preparation in leadership. Whether it is preparing for a challenging project, a negotiation, or a critical decision, adequate preparation can make the difference between success and failure. A good leader anticipates challenges and prepares their team accordingly, ensuring that everyone is ready to face whatever comes their way.

4. Cross as a Team by Forming a Human Chain

One of the most powerful moments of the expedition was crossing the river as a team, forming a human chain by holding each other’s hands firmly. This method provided stability and support, ensuring that no one was swept away by the current. It was a poignant reminder of the strength and resilience that come from teamwork. In any leadership role, fostering a sense of unity and mutual support within a team is crucial. When individuals work together, supporting and relying on each other, they can overcome obstacles that would be insurmountable alone. This experience underscored the importance of collaboration and the power of collective effort in achieving common goals.

5. Face the River Current, Not the Other Side

As we prepared to cross the Chandra River, our guide instructed us to face the river current rather than looking at the other side. This advice was crucial for maintaining balance and stability. Facing the current allowed us to anticipate and react to the force of the water, reducing the risk of being knocked over. This lesson is a powerful metaphor for leadership: facing challenges head-on rather than ignoring them or looking away is essential. Leaders must confront obstacles directly, understand their nature, and develop strategies to navigate through them. By acknowledging and addressing challenges, leaders can steer their teams through turbulent times with confidence and resilience.

6. Post-Crossing Care: Brisk Exercises, Dry Feet, and Warm Socks

Once we had crossed the river, our guide emphasized the importance of immediate post-crossing care: doing brisk leg exercises to restore blood circulation, drying our feet, and putting on fresh, warm socks and shoes. This step was essential for preventing frostbite and ensuring we could continue our journey without discomfort or injury. This lesson translated to the importance of follow-through in leadership. After achieving a significant milestone, it is crucial to take care of your team, address any issues, and ensure everyone is ready for the next phase. Successful leaders recognize that the journey does not end with a single achievement; continuous care and attention are necessary to maintain momentum and morale.

Final Pass

The Hampta Pass expedition was more than just a trek through the Himalayas; it was a transformative journey that provided profound insights into leadership and teamwork. Each lesson, from listening to our guide and crossing the river at the right time to preparing adequately, working as a team, and taking care of ourselves afterward, has profound implications for leadership in any context. This experience at Shea Goru campsite, particularly the crossing of the Chandra River, will remain one of the most memorable and life-transforming lessons for me. It reinforced the importance of preparation, timing, teamwork, and follow-throughโ€”core principles that are essential for effective leadership. As I reflect on this adventure, I am inspired to apply these lessons in all areas of my life, leading with confidence, empathy, and a deep appreciation for the power of collaboration.

Prof. Dr. Prahlada N. B
9 July 2024

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