Everest tragedy of 1996 can be reasoned using various factors, however, one of
the most prominent factor which we agreed as a group was the over confidence
shown by both Fischer and Hall to make Mt. Everest 1996 expedition an ego trip filled with human greed and anarchist attitude. The expert and qualified guides recruited to
help during the trip were not given due importance during the trip to express
their views, which in our opinion would have allowed to reduce some casualties
if not all during the trip.
In spite of
knowing the danger associated with staying at the Summit after 2 pm, both
leaders went ahead way beyond the 2 pm limit while risking the life of
themselves and their team members. The drive to prove to the world that previous
year’s failure was due to bad weather leaders took decision which resulted in
horrific results. Ambitions of leaders resulted in a tragedy on Everest.
model taught to us during the course perfectly fits into the Mt. Everest case
and at the same time proves that all the three parameters are important for
success of the leader and the organization.
You as a Leader: As a leader, it is crucial that one understands the context
and aligns organizational goals with the goal of the individual team members.
Also, it is critical for leaders to focus on socialized powers instead of
personalized power and perform required due diligence with a scope for
correction and flexibility to take decision keeping complete team in mind. From
the case, we can see that most of the above said traits were not shown by Fischer
Environmental Context: Natural
conditions were not in favour of the expedition on Day 3 and Day 4 and at that
particular moment leader has to ensure that team members interest and physical
condition is given adequate importance. In general, leader shall try to
understand the environmental context and take decisions which are for the
higher good of the team and create a psychological safety within the team.
Organization Structure: Leaders shall be open to suggestion specially from
the qualified and trained experts which are hired to facilitate and complete
the job properly, organizational structure shall give enough liberty for
everyone to express their views while at the same time team members shall trust
their leader and have faith that the decision taken by the leader is in
everyone’s interest and not a favour or biased for a particular member of the
team. Both Fischer and Hall had the opportunity to focus their attention on the
complete team and they did choose to look beyond it.
Role of Leaders and Leadership Styles of Fischer and Hall
Everest 1996 case suggests that both Hall and Fisher as the team leaders need
to engage in a delicate balancing act with regard to nurturing confidence,
managing dissent, and ensuring full commitment within their group.
in complex interactions means that different elements of the system can
interact in ways that were unexpected. They are difficult to perceive or comprehend
in advance. This led to a series of small yet interconnected, breakdowns and
ultimately failures that became part of a dangerous “domino effect”
like the case of Everest 1996 tragedy.
there is also the issue of tight coupling meaning that there was a fairly rigid
sequence of time-dependent activities. Here, one dominant path to achieve the
goal at all cost had caused the slack in the system. These characteristics made
it easier for a problem in one area to quickly trigger failures in other
aspects of the climb.
the Everest tragedy was the failure of personal integrity in the leadership
style of Hall and Fisher. Rob Hall, team leader of Adventure Consultant and
Fisher from team Mountain Madness, for instance, forbade their clients to climb
beyond 1 p.m., yet both were still out there attempting to race each other to
the summit. The outcome of it is both perished when descending from the summit.
Leadership Style of Hall
leadership style is characterized as legalistic, as he believed in setting
strict rules and following them. In doing so he believed error could be
prevented or in the least reduced, which ensured the safety of the clients and
overall success of the mission. It was by Hall’s leadership style that an
environment of dependence was formed. Hall established a sense of reliance upon
himself for the rest of the team including his assisting guides, Andy Harris
and Mike Groom. One of Hall’s most famous rules was his strict
turn-around-time. The problem was that he never clarified whether the
turn-around-time would be at 1:00pm or 2:00pm on this particular occasion. It
appears Hall’s intentions were to ensure the safety of his clients through
establishing strict rules to follow, however this method broke down when
intrinsic teamwork was needed to successfully complete the project, and lives
were lost as a result. If Hall had established an environment where opinions
and independence were welcomed, the expedition may not have ended as a tragedy.
Leadership Style of Fischer
Situation Based Approach
emphasized on personal responsibility and self-reliance as opposed to following
a strict set of rules. Fischer’s choice of leadership was better suited for
situations that arose during the final summit, as his entire team reached the
summit and returned back to Camp IV alive, excluding himself. This point can be
argued however, as it was observed that Fischer was overburdened with stress,
both financially and physically, which distracted him from team dynamics and
consequently took away from his overall leadership.
Lessons for Business Organizations from the Case
should be psychological safety
prevailing in the team. It means a shared belief that the team is safe for
interpersonal risk taking. There should be high level of trust and mutual
respect within the team. Team members should not feel that the other group
members or the leader will rebuke, insult, punish, discourage an individual for
speaking up and challenging/questioning the team procedure, decisions, raising
2. Leadership style and behaviour highly
affects this psychological safety. For e.g. Rob Hall gave clear statement of
authority and a forceful speech – “My word is absolute law. I will not tolerate
any dissension. If you don’t like any particular decision I will discuss with
you afterwards but not while on the hill.” This dominating and suppressing
leadership style was incorrect and led to passivity of the clients and
unwillingness to raise their voice and express their concerns openly and
3. Group dynamics and team effectiveness is essential. In any project or organization,
nothing can be accomplished alone as individuals. It’s always necessary to work
together as team and have highly positive group dynamics. Each team member
needs to cooperate, help each other, discuss mistakes, issues, errors openly
and freely, exchange knowledge, information, ideas openly and learn from each
other. These open, candid discussions within team should be always encouraged.
This results in effective team learning behaviour and performance. If the team
members are not comfortable discussing views openly and freely then they cannot
identify and address cognitive biases. For e.g. in the case, the team members
always disagreed, felt uncomfortable, never trusted/relied on each other. They
were just namesake a team but in true sense never coalesced as a team – they
were a group of complete strangers.
4. A newly
formed team is like a group of complete strangers. They need a lot of time to familiarize with each other, feel comfortable
in each other’s company, know each other’s skills and experience well enough.
Only then can they develop mutual trust and respect. They can get rid of any
perceived status differences within team, concern about fellow member’s skills
and experience. They can work together as a team in true sense and not for
5. A team
should constantly take feedback, revisit, revise
and improve plans as conditions, circumstances, requirements, priorities
keep on changing in every step/phase. There should continuous learning and
improvement. E.g. in the case this was lacking. The team just stuck to old,
original plan based on initial conditions.
6. Overconfidence bias – Neither the team
members nor the leaders should be overconfident, egoistic, have extreme
positive assessment of self or of the future risks and obstacles. They should
be unbiased and correctly judge, assess, estimate the future risks, issues,
worst case scenarios. E.g. in the case the Scott Fischer and Rob Hall made bold
statements. They felt that they always made right choices. Fischer dismissed
those who pressed him about the risks. Hall bragged a lot that at the end he
would end up saving another team. This resulted in lapses in judgement.
effect – The decision-making team members should not restrict their
judgements to most recent events or experiences only. Their estimates,
forecasts should never be based on only positive or most recent events. They
should not give too much importance to information and evidence most readily
available. This will again lead to biased, distorted judgement.
8. Sunk cost bias – Failure to ignore sunk
cost bias will lead to several errors in judgements and severe danger or loss.
Team members and leader should rationally choose based on marginal cost and
benefit/utility instead of unrecoverable investment i.e. sunk or historical
costs. They should not consider past investment decisions to choose future
investments. Even if they made past substantial investment in terms of time,
money, other resources, if these investments are consistently generating poor
results, they should ignore them as sunk costs and let them go and move on.
Otherwise it will result in incorrect, biased decisions and escalate situations
and over commitment. E.g. in the case, the leaders Rob Hall and Scott Fischer
always spoke about need to establish cut-off time/predetermined turn-around
time and strictly abide by it in order to avoid dangerous situations. i.e. The
Two o clock rule – If climbers are not on top of summit by 2pm its time to turn
around. However, they ignored their own rules for sunk cost bias. Rob Hall did
not stop client Hansen from ascent to the top even when they reached at 4 PM.
Both died during the descent.
9. Complex systems theory at organization
level – If the system is very complicated, there can be multiple interconnected
breakdowns occurring within human, technological and natural systems. This
complexity may lead to failure eventually.
Learnings from the LTO course which can be shared with Fischer and Hall
Learnings from the Simulation and Key Takeaways
weekend of Simulation, we were thinking about the 3 days of classes and my
personal learning on Leadership over my professional career. We realised
Leadership is exactly like Leader + Ship i.e. you are a leader of ship that has
the left the Port A to reach destination as Port B along with crew members.
Every crew member has individual goals and reason for the journey along with
their individual roles. But you as leader,
(1) Need to create hope/faith in crew members to
align all of you to common vision and create a calling that has meaning/purpose
to achieve the common goal of reaching the destination safe and on time.
develop a love, passion and trust to understand and appreciate each other that
would make every crew to help the other crew if any crew is getting weaker. It
would also help in developing, nurturing and self-realisation of the individual
passion, talent that they can choose on their next journey.
above two, will also make the leader and crew face the external challenges of
unpredictable and rough weather of sea in the best way they could do it. We are
thinking it is close to Spiritual Leadership model.
was no way different than it, all the five members of the team have different
roles, personal objectives, motivations, limitations, experience. All five of
us were on expedition to reach top of Mt Everest, that is full of hostile
conditions and uncertainties like sub-zero temperature, oxygen deprivation,
unpredictable weather, health problems. So, the first step of building the
faith/hope to align to common vision was very helpful. We communicated and
shared each other goals, aspirations, roles and limitations before the
climbing. As we started our mission we face with challenging external
situations on reaching each camp. But the second step i.e. trust and
understanding made all of us to think about the various possibilities and best
step way forward for the group rather than falling on individual obsessions.
That helped us in moving as a group and quickly realising our mistakes and to
correct them quickly.