(Photo taken by Elle Epp from Flickr)
Greg Mortenson stopped 300 meters short of the K2 Summit as time and weather conditions forced him to return to camp. On his way down, he lost the path and spent the night on a boulder next to the edge and followed a path to a small, inviting Pakistani village.
This treacherous K2 climb merely foreshadowed the difficulty of his next adventure of building schools throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson, an intelligent 30 something, worked diligently to help improve the conditions of rural villages. Throughout the book, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, I was struck by the tremendous leadership Mortenson practiced.
These four leadership lessons stood out to me:
1. Leadership requires starting where they are, not where you are
He took serious the notion of starting where the village was at; by eating the food drinking the endless pots of tea, respecting their Muslim religion and values, and patiently waiting through the long process of decision making. It proved frustrating at times, however his patience fostered effectiveness. What comforts do you need to give up in reaching out to others?
“Haji Ali spoke. ‘If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways. The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die. Doctor Greg, you must take time to share three cups of tea.” – 3 Cups of Tea
2. Leadership requires building a trustworthy process
He met often with the village elders, worked with the people and used local resources. He didn’t bribe anyone and turned down $2 million dollars from the U.S. government fearing it would tarnish his credibility. He worked within the context of each community and provided a sustainable, trustworthy process.
“We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly…Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects.” – 3 Cups of Tea
3. Leadership requires working across factions
While staying at a hotel, several Taliban showed up. He ended up drinking tea with them and gained trust by expressing genuine interest in their lives. In your cause, you may need to meet with your “Taliban” or your extreme opponent and take a genuine interest in them in order to make progress.
4. Leadership requires you to hold relentlessly to purpose
Mortenson nearly died several times throughout his career. His work started in the 1990s and continues today. He moved between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the years following September 11. But throughout this odyssey he clung to the belief that only through education, especially of girls, can you improve a culture in the long term. What is your deeply held purpose that you cling to?
Mortenson lost his way down K2, but in doing so, he helped thousands find theirs through education. Whether you’re in K2 or KS, these ideas are transitive to helping you make progress on the issues you care about.