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The Surprising Truth About Extraordinary Achievement

What extreme teams know about setting and achieving remarkable goals

Shailee Basnet and team climbing Mount Everest

When an all-female, Nepalese mountaineering team set out to reach the summit of Mt Everest in 2008, their mission was less about the mountain, than challenging gender stereotypes.  To achieve their ridiculously challenging goal, they needed to overcome funding issues, ridicule, societal pressures, inexperience and physical unpreparedness. All of the women had challenging origin stories that included extreme poverty, sex trafficking, arranged marriages and zero mountain climbing experience, so the local scepticism about their chances was extreme. Local sherpas took bets on how many of them would die on ascent.

Despite the challenges, all ten women successfully reached the summit and survived the 45-day trek.  By 2014, the team had gone on to conquer all “Seven Summits” (the highest peaks on each of the seven continents), receiving international recognition and establishing education programs that fundraise, advocate and educate women.

The surprising truth about their achievement is that they literally built a social structure to support their efforts. Which is also why they were able to go on to replicate the feat on all continents (except Zealandia which is largely under water).

Here are some of the ways they maintained 100% commitment over the extended period through which they needed to train and acquire skills.

We have structured their mission using the SMEAC (Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Communication) which forms part of the 4-Dimensional Leadership Program used by NASA (next launch 1 July 2024):

Situation: The team acknowledged the uncomfortable truths of their situation. They set an ‘avoidance’ goal that articulated the outcome they wanted to avoid at all costs – being ridiculed and letting down the Nepalese women that were following their progress across the country.

Mission: Next they crafted a compelling, almost impossible ‘approach’ goal – to shatter stereotypes and establish gender role models for Nepalese women by climbing Mount Everest. Interestingly, the group rarely talked about the summit, which they saw as a byproduct of their true goal.  Instead, they visualised the feeling and effect they would have when they walked back into their villages having successfully climbed the mountain (what behavioural scientists call ‘prospective memory’).

Execution: They cocooned themselves together outside of their villages, cutting themselves off from the ridicule and scepticism of families and ‘friends’, creating their own support structure and focussing on what they need to do to achieve their aspirational future. They then developed a detailed plan, visualing every step of the process, including how they would deal with setbacks like the death of a team member (‘implementation planning’) in behavioural terms. ‘What is the best I can do in the worst moment?’ says Shailee Basnet.

Administration: Missions require funding and and so they put their minds to raising the significant amounts of money that would be needed to sustain them throughout the preparatory conditioning period. Once funding came, they relocated to a training base for 6 months, avoiding contact with negative influences, including the press, fellow climbers, and naysayers, even family.

Communication: The team established a social contract that would make NASA proud. There was nothing that they couldn’t say to one another, on the assumption that it came from a place of love. And this extended to their broader group of supporters, including sponsors. Communication was frank and frequent to keep them in the loop. 

Key Take Aways from Each of our Articles on High-Performing Teams

Article 1 – Seven Summits. The story of the all-female Nepalese climbing team that successfully ascended Everest. Key takeaway – Behavioural change needs social support. Read it here

Article 2 – Thai Cave Rescue. The heroic rescue of 12 boys from a flooded cave in Thailand. Key takeaway – Imperfect action: Full and timely commitment to a mediocre plan is better than late commitment to a great one.
Read it here.

Article 3 – Solar Impulse. We shared the extraordinary success of the team who delivered a 5 day – 5 night flight around the world without fuel. Key takeaway – High-performing teams become more motivated when presented with near-impossible goals.
Read it here.

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