Performance & Leadership Lessons from Trekking on the Himalayas

I got an opportunity to go on a Himalayan Trek with few wonderful people from and last week.  Had fantastic time climbing the mountains towards Shethidhar Summit camp (14500 feet) near Manali, India with newly found friends. The view was serene, inexplicably beautiful, no pollution and especially drinking water directly from Beas river streams  made the trek really special.  This trek taught us lot of lessons on performance and leadership front.

  1. Physical fitness & discipline
    • It is extremely important to follow the process and discipline to reach the goals. Few of my team members worked hard for the last 8 months – doing trekking in local mountains (wherever they lived), walking long distance, etc.  If we have not done this preparation, it would have created lot of issues.  Imagine evacuating a person through stretchers / lifting them on shoulders, etc. for 5-6 hours from midst of mountains to a nearby hospital.  Thankfully, nothing happened like that – mainly due to upfront preparation of the team.
    • Going up on the mountains require acclimatization. It is a process in which an individual adjusts to a gradual change to the environment (such as a change in temperature, humidity, etc). Every 2500-3000 feet requires one night of rest and acclimatization so that body adjusts to the environment, oxygen levels, etc. Our team leader (Seshadri) planned entire trek very well and spaced out the trek and stay.

Every project – be it building a software or business, you need to have proper process in place. No shortcuts.

  1. Importance of pushing the boundary and performing under pressure
    • Climbing the mountains at 45-50 degree slopes and crossing the streams require determination, continuous focus on the target and motivation.  Often times, we got tired and had to take frequent breaks – be it less stamina, need of oxygen, etc. However, we kept continuous focus on reaching the target and moved on.
    • Our trainers were around always and were pushing the envelope – go faster, reach that rock before taking rest, etc. – Continuous encouragement and at the same time, pushing us to reach the target. These guys know their trade very well.
    • On the mountains, there is a concept of Turn-around time (TAT). We had to stop climbing at 12.00 noon on the 4th day and walk back from wherever we were.  Otherwise, we would not be able to reach our camps safely.  TAT is a well-respected, non-negotiable concept on the mountains.  Goals are always time-bound.  This contributed to additional and unavoidable pressure on all of us.  In software projects, we have an equation between Time, Budget and Scope. You have to keep at least one parameter fixed and one parameter variable.  We cannot violate this. Otherwise, we can never release the software to the market.  In our trek, TAT (time) is fixed.  And, we kept the distance traveled variable…wherever we were, we had to return from that place.
  2. Importance of helping your team
    • Our trainers were continuously watching how we are doing and what we are doing. Whoever had challenges or facing issues (e.g. Difficulty in crossing the streams / walking on the boulders / etc.), they were ready to jump and help – all without asking.  (Their boss was not instructing or present around us).  They were also teaching us on how to do the stuff correctly all the time.  This helped us to learn and reduce the mistakes (for our own safety).
  3. Secret weapon – Engagement
    • Who does not love Pizza, French Fries, Hot tea/coffee/bournvita during the discussions – especially served hot in a cold environment? It was fantastic. They knew their tasks pretty well, they engaged the team and made them comfortable, briefed them about the plans, talked about the culture, measure of success & what not?  Team got energized with all this and was ready to rock and roll again. By the way, add music to it.
  4. Upfront planning & Attention to details
    • Our team leaders, Seshadri and Dinanath from have planned entire trek very well. There is no road after Dundi and we had to go deep into mountains for about 20 Kms. So, literally, everything required for us to be comfortable and safe had to be planned upfront – right from tents, sleeping bags, kitchen utensils, groceries, etc.  Nobody can come back to pick-up any missing stuff for the dinner.  This requires amazing level of attention to details and detailed planning.
  5. Continuous feedback towards reaching goals
    • Our trainers kept engaging us (the team) well during the trek – whether we were walking on the boulders or walking along the streams. They talked about short-term goals (how do you reach today’s’ destination) and what is required for the big day. I felt it was really helpful in learning these tips.
  6. Be agile & Adapt
    • Things change continuously during the course of a project. There was a change of plan on 4th day to walk for a longer distance so that 5th day would be easier for us.  On such trekking we just need to be ready for these kinds of changes.
    • We were carrying 4-5 Kg of weight in our day sacks. Few of our team members felt that it is slowing down our speed while going up towards the summit. They just dropped the bag and moved on.  It really helped them to reach the summit on time.  During the course of the projects, we should just figure out the bottlenecks and be innovative in solving these problems. One should convert the problems into opportunities.
  7. Collaboration & Team work
    • Collaboration and team work are extremely critical, especially when we are doing things that we have not done before. Helping each other is essential part of team work.  We were crossing the streams and boulders, facing difficulties, at these situation Team members were quick to react by putting small rocks across water to make temporary bridge for crossing, extending hands to move up on the mountain, etc.  Only when there is collaboration and team work, you can really do anything.
    • No human being can take all credit for his work as there are 100s of people who have guided or shaped him directly and indirectly. In the mountains, this is absolutely true as one word of encouragement can change the attitude from giving up to pursuing the goal. The same applies in real life projects – we need to pass the credit to people around us.
  8. Customer Delight
    •’s team is fantastic. As I mentioned, there are several constraints as a part of their job (training us, taking care of us& managing the entire show).  But, there was not even a single irritation or complaint of repeated requests for doing stuff from our end.  As I observed, NALS team did not require any major external guidance or micro management.  Everyone knows what they are supposed to do and did that very well.  And, they treated us (the customers) really well.  No doubt – all of us gave 5 stars for them. We need to replicate this in our organization.
  9. It is a journey – mile stone is important and at the same time, you should also take care of yourself.
    • This is something ultimate that I have learnt. Few of our team members could not reach the destination – some of them got tired mid-way, some of them felt high altitude sickness, etc.  Obviously, they felt bad that they could not reach the goal.  While destination is important, it is also important that you enjoy the journey and reach  the destination on time.  Even if you are not able to reach the destination on time, there is always – NEXT TIME.  No point in stressing or feeling bad about yourself.  Mountains will always be there.

Folks if you get an opportunity to go on a trek, just grab it and enjoy! You will feel the serenity and also you will go through a life-time experience.


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