Lessons in Leadership – from a mountain top in Morocco during the Earthquake
I’ve just returned from a hiking holiday with 12 other people. We’d joined Fit4_Adventures (https://fit4.one/) to hike up to North Africa’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal in Morocco. The rural region is made up of red-rock mountains, picturesque gorges and beautiful streams and waterfalls. It’s paradise.
11:11pm on Day 2 (Friday 8th September), an earthquake began its destruction with a 6.8 tremor. You’ve seen the news, so I’ll spare you the details.
We were all asleep 6 miles from the epicentre, 3,500 metres up the mountain, in a refuge with about 30 other hikers.
Thousands of lives have been lost and our story is so different to the ongoing suffering in Morocco. Local residents still find themselves trapped in dire circumstances suffering the loss of their homes, loved ones, and entire mountain-side communities. Numerous routes leading to these remote villages are expected to remain blocked for weeks, exacerbating the distressing situation.
I’ve thought constantly about how different our story would be without our own personal privilege, and also about how different it would have been without our team leaders, Chris and Laura. I’ve learned my most valuable lessons in Leadership by reflecting on their actions over the 24 hours from 11:11pm on the mountain top to 11:11pm the next day when our group sat down to eat dinner together, in our Riad back in the (relative) safety of Marrakesh.
So here they are. I hope you’ll find them useful too.
- Don’t “protect” your team from difficult messages.
Communicate them in a rational, objective and honest way. Some of the messages Chris and Laura had to communicate to us included:
- we will not be hiking to the mountain peak
- be prepared for a 2nd hit at 2:15am
- we will have no electricity or phone signals
- we don’t know the state of the roads to get you back, they’re probably blocked
- you will need your head torches switched on for when the second hit comes
- we may have to camp out possibly for two nights
- we don’t know how we’ll get back to Marrakesh
- we can’t buy additional food as the shops are saving it for local people (fair enough)
The list goes on and on. Every message was difficult, and they didn’t shy away from it. They spoke with confidence and clarity. We listened. We had all the information we needed to make sense of the reality.
- Take calculated risks and own them
Chris and Laura took many risks. I won’t share details here because they were personal risks that they chose to take. The risks required bravery and they were taken for our protection. They were clear on their mission; to get us back to Marrakesh as soon and as safely as possible and they did what was necessary to make that happen. Thanks to them, we were warm (it was 2 degrees!) and comfortable as we could be camping outside. We had our phones and passports, they got messages to our families. They put our safety before their own….
This was their priority for our survival. As a team they praised us all for our calm and rational way of dealing with the situation. There were no dramas. We accepted the situation and made the best of it. We stayed calm because of their Leadership; we were made to feel as safe as was possible which brought out the best in all of us.
- Agility at Speed
They made things happen before I could even think through a plan of what we might do. When we reached the bottom of the mountain and realised that the roads back were all completely blocked, Chris had already checked all the hostels to see if they had availability (they didn’t) and Laura was asking a policeman for a ride on the back of his motorbike to the next town to see if she could get phone service and make other arrangements.
The rest of us, exhausted and scared, were watching this crisis management in awe and bewilderment. How were they still managing to operate this way? I certainly couldn’t!
- Care and Compassion
Overarching all of this, they communicated with kindness, empathy and humour (we had quite a few laughs even leading up to the terrifying 2:15am warning). We knew that they cared so much; about us, about the local people, about the landscape, the animals, the country. Because of this, we cared for them too. Their kindness and empathy drove our performance. With depleting physical and mental energy, at the bottom of the mountain, when we were told that we had to walk the final 16km because of road blocks, we were all doing it for Chris and Laura. We owed them!
To experience this all first-hand has been the best learning experience I’ve ever had.
Chris and Laura are both 26 years old. Are they millennials? Gen Zs? It doesn’t matter and I don’t care. How unhelpful it is to broad brush and categorize people by their age.
Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes, and I’ve just witnessed the best of it in action from 2 youthful, ambitious, kind, caring and inspiring individuals: Chris and Laura from Fit4_Adventures. Their Leadership brought out the best in all of us. And isn’t that a great objective of Leading? Bringing out the best performance in our teams.
Thank-you Laura and Chris – I speak on behalf of all of the team – our gratitude lasts forever.