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Mt. Everest 1996, Case Study Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1112

Case Study

To scale Mount Everest is among the greatest accomplishments that can be achieved in the field of mountain climbing. Unfortunately, Everest is unforgiving, claiming the lives of many who have tried. Some believe that the mountain is not too dangerous as long as you are careful to avoid mistakes. Others believe that Mount Everest will always be dangerous, and that fate plays a larger role over who lives and dies. This is also part of the debate on what occurred May 10, 1996, when the mountain claimed five lives among 23 people that were attempting to summit on a single day.

For business managers, applicable lessons can be learned through the leadership and management decisions that were made by the leaders of the expeditions on that day. The purpose of this paper is to identify the causes of the tragedy, determine if such tragedies are inevitable, evaluate the leaders of the two expeditions, and review the leadership decisions. Finally, we will identify lessons learned and explain why they are applicable to business management techniques.

Why the tragedy occurred, and the root cause of the disaster: There was no single cause of the tragedy, but a series of issues and challenges that the two expeditions encountered. Many climbers were inexperienced with high altitude climbing, leading to multiple problems. Also, most of the climbers did not know or trust each other. This lack of trust was cited by those who survived this expedition, who did not feel like they could rely on the other people. Climbers such as Krakauer later wrote that compared to other groups of more experienced climbers he was with before, he did not know what to make of this group. He also did not know if he could rely on them, and they lacked his confidence (Roberto, 2003.)

The overconfidence of some of the leaders and the hierarchy of leadership also worked against the expeditions. Scott Fischer, who was leader of the Mountain Madness team, was particularly self assured, claiming that a “yellow brick road” had been built to the summit of Everest, and that the mountain had been mastered. Such hubris can be dangerous, and in this instance contributed to the deaths that occurred. As for hierarchy, it was drilled into the heads of the climbers not to question their guide’s orders, which became very dangerous when several of the guides either became incapacitated or were not thinking clearly (Roberto, 2003.)

Logistical challenges and lack of teamwork may have ultimately been the final and most important factor. There were several miscalculations during the ascent which cost them time. There was also a lack of commitment on when they should turn back to camp, which for many occurred hours after it should have. For the Mountain Madness team, a lack of proper equipment included proper radios, to the point that during the ascent they guides were largely out of contact with their climbers (Roberto, 2003.)

Are tragedies such as this simply inevitable in places like Everest? Based on the articles reviewed, many things can be done in order to prevent such tragedies. Risks can be minimized, and future groups can learn from the mistakes of the previous. However, Everest remains a very dangerous place. When altitudes above 25,000 feet are involved, bodies start to die in this altitude range dubbed “the death zone”. Simple functions such as eating and breathing become difficult (Madson, 2003). Such tragedies are likely inevitable, though it is possible to minimize their frequency.

Evaluation of Scott Fischer and Rob Hall as leaders: These two were among the most experienced high altitude climbers in the world, but both made errors on this trip. Of the two, Rob Hall seems to come out more favorably, as his expedition was generally better prepared, and his death was caused primarily because he refused to leave his climber, Doug Hansen, behind. One could question his judgment on allowing Hansen to be there, as his multitude of health issues were obvious days before the ascent (Roberto, 2003).

Fischer ran into many logistical challenges at base camp, which created health and expedition issues that continued to persist throughout his expedition. Ultimately his health failed on the final ascent, which also left his expedition largely leaderless due to the hierarchy mentioned previously. Both leaders are guilty of putting their expeditions at risk for not turning back in time (Roberto, 2003).

Did they make poor decisions? The biggest mistake made by each expedition that day was not turning back from the summit in time. Six climbers of the 23 made it to the summit prior to 2:00 p.m., which was the latest Fischer communicated that people could achieve the summit without turning back. Hansen did not arrive until 4:00 p.m. The fact that the guides or leaders did not make everyone turn back in a timely manner is a major factor that led to the deaths of five people that day.

Lessons learned for business management: leadership and teamwork are critical to effective decisions, and they need to work in tandem. The fact that the Everest expeditions were hierarchal is understandable, just as there is hierarchy in business. What is equally important is teamwork, where leaders rely on their teams as much as teams rely on their leaders. When leadership broke down on Everest the team did not feel like they could question or challenge the guides, even though they knew something was wrong. This is an important lesson for business, as leaders in business management need to empower and delegate to their team. Leaders also need to listen to their team, as team members have insights and information that provide benefit.

Conclusion

Xperience was not the issue, as both Fischer and Hall were knowledgeable in their discipline. What was lacking was teamwork and leadership, which could be a bigger focus in these kind of expeditions. These groups of strangers are required to acclimate to the high altitudes, which takes time. So during this period, I would conduct team building exercises that would establish support among those who are risking their lives together. I would also address hierarchy by establishing a system where team members will be prepared to know the signs of altitude sickness in their guides in the event of someone’s health failing at a critical time. Finally, I would make everyone sign a contract stipulating that under no circumstances does anyone continue to climb higher after 1:30 p.m., and the contract would have serious punitive damages attached. Such a decision is life and death, and there should be no ambiguity in how this decision is made.

References

Madson, J,. (2003, Mar. 4). The Deadliest Day on Everest. Glide Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.glidemagazine.com/articles/51309/the-deadliest-day-on-everest.html

Roberto, M.A. (2003, Jan. 6). Mount Everest – 1996. Harvard Business School, 9-303-061, 1-22.

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