Leadership Development Sherpas

February 14, 2018 by Wally Bock

Leadership development should always be evolving to adapt to new conditions and make use of new ideas. Enter Deborah Rowland of the London School of Economics who wrote an intriguing piece on their blog, titled, “Leadership development today requires that faculty act less as experts, more as Sherpas.” Here’s the golden kernel.

“Sherpas are a tribe from the Nepalese Himalayas, whose social custom has been to provide humane and courageous guides to climbers visiting their region. There are five features of the Sherpa role that I believe form the essence of the leadership development faculty requirements of today:

1. Sherpas can take people to their ‘edge’, without having them fall
2. The Sherpa’s place is to walk alongside the climber – not from afar, or, from the front
3. The key Sherpa’s skill is one of deep listening, to make continued and wise adjustments to the journey
4. Having said that, good Sherpas plan the route carefully, knowing (enough of) the terrain, fixing the ropes in place
5. The deep social custom of the original ethnic Sherpas group was to help imbue each tour with spiritual meaning – climbing the peaks is a sacred act.”

Leadership Development and the Sherpa

This is a fascinating concept, but I wonder what it would look like in real life. The article reads like the Sherpas are members of a leadership development faculty. But, real Sherpas “walk alongside the climber,” they’re part of the expedition and share in the danger of the journey.

There are obviously other details to work out, like who selects the objective. How do we select/develop Sherpas for leadership development? Taking people to their edge “without having them fall” sounds like a good thing. I wonder where you find enough people who can bring it off consistently. What happens if an aspiring leader goes over the edge?

Leadership Development and Change

Leadership development must change because leadership is constantly changing. Leadership challenges change and so communication and training methods. The Sherpa concept isn’t an answer. It’s the starting point for more questions and prototypes.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development

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