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  • Kit Allowitz

3 Lessons trekking in Nepal will teach you about Leadership

My wife and I trekked in Nepal recently.

It changed the way I see things about myself, about others and about leadership.

May I share 3 lessons about trekking and its relationship to Leadership?

Leadership over the past year has taken on a new depth of understanding for me, primarily due to the relationship I have enjoyed with a new friend and colleague of mine, Matt Chodkowski. Matt is a professor at University of Indianapolis. He teaches a program called LEAD. You can find more information on Matt and his program here:

As Matt is fond of saying, “The greatest difference between any two leaders is simply……. How They Think.”

May I suggest to you this is a powerful idea.

I had a lot of time to think while trekking many miles in the Himalayan mountains just recently. It helped shape the following insights.

Is this true? We don’t know what we don’t know we don’t know-

Yep, it’s probably true.

Therefore: Becoming aware of what you don’t know you don’t know (blind spots) becomes a highly leveraged activity as humans and leaders. I became more aware on my trekking in Nepal of things I didn’t know I didn’t know.

I encourage you to be open to these 3 lessons:

  1. People are more similar than they are different. The differences are in degree not dimension. The more we learn about different people, the less difference we see between people.

  2. If we understand ourselves better, we will understand others better.

  3. Change is learning and almost always involves modifying behavior.

Nepal is a country that is overloaded with amazing beauty. Located at a similar parallel as Florida (but 8,500 miles from Florida), you can see vastly different landscapes. In the south, lush jungles, elephants, rhinos and tigers. In the north, stark high-altitude terrain, dry thin air and trekking in snow. Altitudes range from 6,000 feet to the highest point on earth – Mount Everest at 29,070 feet. With all that difference, you also can meet the amazing people of Nepal in both landscapes who live, thrive and build their country and have done so for centuries.

For 21 days my wife and I traveled and trekked around the formattable Himalayan mountains. We only scratched the surface of the terrain never getting far north of 13,000 feet. While we were still nearly 16,000 plus feet from even touching the top of Mount Everest, both my wife and I truly had a surreal, touching, euphoric and maybe even so far as to say a spiritual adventure.

Trekking on those surreal high mountain trails, with mountain goats on one side, mesmerizingly beautiful Buddhist Stupas on the other, Buddhist monasteries and small villages out in the formidable distance in front of us and porters, Sherpas and donkeys behind us, it was unmatched beauty. To be fair, the porters and donkeys were only behind us until we got winded shortly into the daily trek and they passed us. When we saw them again, camp was set up with hot chocolate, sleeping bags out and some savory variation of dal bhat cooking, ready to eat as we finally arrived at that day’s destination.

While trekking on those high mountain terrains and experiencing all new stimuli I became far more aware of these 3 leadership lessons.

Lesson #1:

People are more similar than they are different. The differences are in degree not dimension. In fact, the more we learn about different people, the less difference we see between people.

Nepal was the furthest I had ever been from home, some 7,500 miles away. Surprisingly, the people of Nepal quickly showed up as far more similar to me than different. For me we both showed up as humans- busy, kind, aware, loving, hardworking, friendly, and giving. In 21 days, my wife and I formed a strong bond and deep admiration and appreciation for the many porters and Sherpas that made our adventure amazing. We stayed in tea houses in small villages and met many beautiful people of Nepal.

Leadership lesson unpacked:

As we work with others, report to others and others report to us, the moment we start to go ‘south’ thinking others are less like us than more like us is the moment we choose to see people as different than us. When we see others as different and separate, we unequivocally generate a different mindset in how we interact and treat others.

Don’t think me naive- I am aware there are subtle differences in people, language, dress, food choice, etc., and yet at the core, people most often share a very close-knit set of similar needs, wants, behaviors, and motivations.

These subtle differences also exist in the workplace. At the core we are far more similar, employee and employer, colleague and peer, those in finance interacting with those in production or those in marketing and those in sales. Those similarities exist around many needs and want areas. For example, we all want to look good and avoid looking bad, to get along and be accepted.

Leadership capacity grows the moment we intrinsically believe that people are more similar than different! In those moments where we choose to see each other as not different, not better, but similarly engaged in a mutual collaboration experience, where together we can achieve mutually desirable outcomes is where leadership thrives.

In the final analysis – the more we learn about different people, the less difference we see between them, the more success we can find in achieving mutual goals.

Lesson #2

If we understand ourselves better, we will understand others better.

As I trekked day after day in the Himalayas, there were long periods where I was out alone with the grandeur and majestic mountains on all sides. As I walked, thinking about my place in these amazing mountains I saw that to be fulfilled in life and in leadership, you must know yourself, your needs, values, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, intentions and actions. These things culminate into habits.

Leadership lesson unpacked:

To know me is therefore to know others (see lesson #1). I have learned that we as humans all share a very close set of needs, we are very predictable. For example, needs include things like: air, water, food, safety, harm avoidance, tendency to avoid physical pain, heat-avoidance, cold-avoidance and the tendency to seek and enjoy sensations. Equally so, we often all share similar values. There are many values, probably 300 +. Yet for most of us we are driven by a small number of the same ones. For example, values include things like patience, kindness, forgiveness, trust, selflessness, compassion, protection, integrity, truthfulness, responsibility, reliability, dependability, consistency, decency, justice, sincerity and commitment.

Our needs and values drive our beliefs. This is where divergent paths start to emerge. For example, the simple beliefs around money and acquiring it or how much you and I should work each day can create different actions by two people. Beliefs drive attitude which eventually drives habit. Taking time to think of this sequence Needs-Values-Beliefs-Attitude-Emotions-Intentions-Action-Habit for ourselves unequivocally allows for the chance to better understand others. When you understand others, more possibility becomes imaginable.

Lesson #3

Change is learning, and almost always involves modifying behavior.

Ever tasted a MoMo from Nepal? Wow! Wow oh wow, MoMo’s were my favorite food in Nepal. MoMo’s are an easy-on-the-taste buds type of steamed dumpling with some form of yummy filling, often very spicy.

I was able to modify my behavior for spicy foods as a result of trekking in Nepal. I have not ever been a fan of spicy foods. Amazing to me was that after 3 weeks eating delicious Nepal spicy food, I find myself drawn to Nepalese restaurants back home. I chose to modify my beliefs, behavior and habits around spicy foods.

Leadership Lesson unpacked:

Change or die is a common phrase out in the world today.

Most know that to grow our businesses we must be open to the rapidly changing technologies that are constantly emerging. I love the saying, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.” That seems to be correct. Therefore, a leader must be aware of the subtle differences in resisting vs. learning. As we learn we unmistakably know we must change our behavior. Change is learning and almost always involves modifying behavior.

I would submit that most of us are open to learning, yet to practice what we learn requires modifying our behavior. This is the part where the wheels fall off the bus. Practice requires energy, time, commitment, willpower. These are all proactive words that take discipline. Discipline is the ability to follow through on commitments after the emotion of making those commitments has passed.

Following through is the hard part. A leader unambiguously knows that for themselves and those who follow, to stay current in the marketplace, change is learning and that learning almost always involves modifying behavior and that modification takes energy and energy takes proactivity which takes willpower which takes discipline which takes commitment.

A great leader must come to a place of understanding and commitment, at the core, then move to help, assist, model and be passionate with those who report to them to find that same intrinsic desire to be in the business of learning and modifying, for therein lies growth, development and non-stagnation.

For my wife and I, Nepal was a most neurologically band-braking experience. So much so that we have committed to return in 2020 and trek again.

Will you join us?

We are looking for 15-20 other friends and colleagues …. YOU to join us. We will be trekking to basecamp of Everest. This is not a technical climb, so no experience needed. All you need is desire and 15 days. Nepal is a wonder of a place.

Join us!

Did you know: I publish a daily short 1.5-minute Nugget related to Not Pulling the Chicken Switch. You should check it out!

Follow me on LinkedIn at Kit Allowitz

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