What's in a name? Boss? LO7160

Michael Erickson (sysengr@atc.boeing.com)
Fri, 3 May 1996 10:10:08 -0700

Replying to LO7131 --

Re: "some settings demand a hard ass style (fire fighters..."

I'm not sure I agree. I have lead a number of climbing teams to the
top of Mount Rainier in Washington State. This mountain routinely kills
people due to capricious weather, eratic and prodigious rock fall, and
the hazards of 26 living glaciers (some 300 feet thick) with crevass and
Serac hazards that are never the same each time.

I once had a mutiny while descending the mountain. Major dis-agreement
about my choice of route and the handling of the hazards. While I had
to dig my heels in and defend my position pretty vociferously, I can't
say that being a "hard ass" is what won the arguement. I had to make
sure everyone understood "the current reality" as clearly as possible.

The issue was that we were descending on a rock ridge (dissapointment
cleaver--about 12,000 feet) late in the day. We had climbed up on the
ice south of the ridge, but now, late in the day, the snow bridges had
become soft and I was worried they would collapse when one of us crossed
them. We had been on our feet for 18+ hours (having begun the ascent
at midnight the previous day-to get thru the rock bands while everything
was frozen down/not falling on us) so our ability to quickly react to
a fall wasn't up to our best. I opted to come down on the rock ridge
that was uncomfortable to walk on and route finding was tricky, but some
of my team members revolted at that idea.

I had to make them understand that Death is a real possibility in that
situation. I reasoned them through it. I flat told them I wasn't going
to give up my leadership position (so I guess that could be construed as
hard --) but my main effort was to get them to see that I felt the
responsibility to keep the team alive, healthy and intact, not personal
arrogance at being leader. None of them knew the whole route down.
While several of them were much stronger than I phisically, I have more
technical climbing knowledge/experience in terms of how to set up a
rescue system (rig rope/anchors), and can navigate by compass, handle
snow survival... Stuff that certainly would be needed if they chose to
break up the team and go their own way.

I guess my point is-I had to do some fast and furious education so they
could see what was at stake. Brute force and awkwardness might have
forced them to do it my way, but when they got down off that mountain,
they knew why we did what we did, and no one has any grudges toward me
to this day.

There is a big difference between confidant assertiveness and brute
Intimidation in the business of being a leader. I've had to handle
life and death situations enough to know that you want the confidence
of those you lead, not their fear.

In the corporate world, you can lose it all and no one will die over it
(except for the exec who jumps out a window or a mail room clerk who
cuts loose with a weapon... but those are not normal experiences).
True leadership is still about caring for your team, not being the
"herder of the intimidated".


--Michael Erickson


sysengr@atc.boeing.com (Michael Erickson)

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