There are multiple factors led these people to death in this catastrophe. For instance, in this case, Kraukauer said that “I felt so disconnected from the climbers around me….. We were a team in name only…… we would leave camp as a group, we would ascend as individuals, linked to one another by neither rope not deep sense of loyalty. Each client was in it for himself or herself, pretty much.”
We can realize that there was lack of establishment of strong working relationship between team members, as well as lack of communication between team members during different stages of the expedition. These had caused the lack of group decision making which could have led to this tragedy. However, besides these factors in form of decision making perspective, we absolutely cannot ignore the glaring factor in this case which is the leadership style of Rob Hall and Scott Fisher.
First and foremost, one of the factors of the tragedy on Mount Everest was the cognitive biases within the leadership of Hall and Fisher. Both leaders showed a lot of overconfidence and high self-efficacy in this case. In particular, Hall had solid history of guiding 39 clients to the summit of Everest successfully. He felt very confident with his ability and believed that he could lead anyone to the summit. Similarly, Fisher was also confident but his high sense of self-efficacy was unjustified as he depended on his previous success on Everest as a climber but not as a team leader. However, this substantial amount of cognitive biases of the leaders had led to an autocratic leadership style which created a clear division between the leaders and followers. Many team members worried about their abilities and yet the leaders remained confident in their own abilities. The cognitive biases had caused they underestimate the challenge and difficult to perceive or comprehend in advance.
Secondly, both Hall and Fisher were not tolerating any objection from team members. Their leadership style discouraged any feedbacks and created a climate was hostile to open discussion which had made nobody wanted to question their wrong actions and even when the thing began to go wrong. This hierarchy of power caused everyone afraid of offering opinions, like what Beidleman expressed in this case study, “I was definitely considered the third guide, so I tried not to be too pushy. As a consequence, I didn’t always speak up when I should have.” They had the understanding that their opinion could be irreverent. As a result, leaders were distanced from guides and other team members which had brought a detriment to the team members’ psychological safety.
Thirdly, there was a failure of personal integrity in the leadership style of Hall and Fisher which gave rise to this tragedy. Both of the leaders developed the “two o’clock rule” and forbade their team members to climb beyond 2 p.m., Hall was obstinate about this rule, “lectured us repeatedly about the importance of having a predetermined turnaround time…… and abiding by it no matter how close we were to the top.” However, they did not adhere to it and attempted to compete with each other to the summit. Thus, their late arrival made no choice for them but to descend in darkness and deal with extreme weather on Mount Everest and this resulted in many deaths.
Fourthly, Hall and Fisher became too occupied with the small operations during the expedition. They missed the possible chance to review and revise their overall plan or tactic. They could not control the different perceptions of the team members and even allowed them to develop personal bias regarding the abilities of some members. Moreover, the formation of the team by leaders lacked of consideration of the non-expert members’ skills. As mentioned above, the leaders and their team members had different common goals in their minds. The common goal of the team did not fit well with the overall goals of the organization. Hence, there was an imbalance between the perceptions of the leaders and team members.
After identifying the critical problem of leadership style of Rob Hall and Scott Fisher, we can figure out what lesson had we learnt and also bring out several recommended solutions which should have been done in order to avoid the disaster.
Firstly, despite the good preparation in advance, both of the leaders must always be flexible to adjust to the fact. Mount Everest holds surprises for all climbers, some people might think that weather is unpredictable and uncontrollable, but someone can actually make a decision to prevent the weather. Leaders should always be alerted to the nature and they should respect it as well as well as not too overconfidence based on previous success. This is because every challenges are never be the same. As such, the leaders need to reform the perceptions of the team members that real challenges consist of variable unknowns and they must maintain vigilance constantly. If the team build up realistic goals and willing to adjust their strategies in accordance to the changing environment, then they will be more likely to succeed.
Furthermore, the task-oriented and demanding leadership style of Hall and Fisher is fatal in this case, which is quite similar to the leadership style of Couch Knight. An effective leader have to be able to accept criticism and face any kinds of problem with an open mind. We can see the two leaders in the case study demanded only cooperation without any dissent or question. This kind of leadership is relatively dangerous to certain teams, organizations and companies. Hall explained to his group, “I will tolerate no dissension up there. My word will be absolute law, beyond appeal. If you don’t like a particular decision….. I’d be happy to discuss it with you afterward, bur not while we’re up on the hill.” Then, this caused team members watched their leaders make wrong decisions obviously and still chose to follow the decision blindly. Therefore, in order to orientate the team members and prevent the disaster, leaders need to take the members’ opinions into account and ensure that any of the decision making is not in monocracy. The entire team should have allowed to voice out their points of view when it came to decision making, and this problem can be corrected if leaders asked the feelings of their team members regarding each decisions. By receiving opinion from each members, it can help the team reach consensus, and also help the leaders focus better on addressing the dynamics of situations. I highly recommend that the leaders in this case should apply the leadership style of Couch K but not Couch Knight.
In addition, there should not be any exception to the “two o’clock rule”. This rule is set up as a milestone because of the hostile environment on the Mount Everest. Especially for leaders, they need to follow the rule as they are role model to their team members. For examples, if there is a delay in the beginnings of moving toward the summit, then it is better for us to abandon the plan on that day as it is sort of a common sense. This type of common sense rule must be abided by all leaders, guides and team members without any exception because the unexpected outcome may endanger our health or even our life.
In addition, there are many alternative ways to make corrections to communication problems. One of the ways should be, when guiding people up to Everest, Hall and Fisher need to address every individual’s needs and opinions. As the case stated, “As Fischer evaluated his team, he acknowledged that several clients had not spend much time at high altitude.” The leaders did not consider the different physical fitness and psychological condition among their members. During the expedition, physical and psychological condition of some members deteriorated, so they should have observed the physical condition of every team members at different pre-determined points whilst climbing up to the Mount Everest. Besides, leaders should have established a set goals within the team but not only focus on their own individual goals. With this, they can easily review and revise their set goal and strategies and then they could prevent the tragedy happen.
In conclusion, Rob Hall and Scott Fisher were capable of managing the task, but they made critical errors in their leadership responsibilities. In this case study, their leadership style were too overconfidence, not tolerating to any objections from others and too occupied with the small operations. Also, there were failure of personal integrity and lacked of consideration of the non-expert members’ skills which become parts of the factors that caused dangerous “effect”. All of these factors can sum up their leadership problem that led to this disaster in the rough.
In order to avoid this horrible tragedy, they should have carried up different actions. For example, leaders must always be flexible to adjust to the fact, able to accept different feedbacks and open to any kinds of problem. Likewise, they should not be any exception to the “two o’clock rule”, and they have to address every individual’s needs and opinions, established a set goals within the team but not only focus on their own individual goals. Coupled with the solutions above, therefore, we can realize that leadership plays a very important role in every decision making process, as quality leadership makes quality decisions.
With this understanding, this case provided us numerous comparable situations to business life, such as we have to develop a vision of the company, communicate well to our fellow colleague and most importantly, establish a really good leadership style which perfectly fits the situation of the company. Accomplishing challenging mission usually can generate high satisfaction, but what we can learn from this case is always set appropriate expectations, open line of communication and carry out several precautionary measures. Those will be the significant keys to our success, eventually at most of the time, we can avoid the death of a team member.
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