Friday, June 9, 2017

Lessons from a trekking guide

A few weeks ago, we went on a fairly arduous (by our standards) trek. We had a guide taking us over somewhat difficult terrain. None of the trekking team members were experienced - they were as good as first timers with varying levels of fitness. There were many challenges - distance, climb, weather, terrain, language - and he had no idea who this team was and we had no idea who he (and his team) was.

The trekking team was 5 members plus 7 helpers (cook, porter, helper) led by a guide.

The team started with a lot of enthusiasm - as all teams do and burnt themselves before the first rest stop. Not that we realized it - except for the huffing and puffing - but he gave us an unscheduled stop and asked us to have lunch. That automatically slowed us down. Lesson: Pace your team

Day 1 night there was a terrible storm - the kind of which I have never seen in my life. It was a blizzard, rains, strong winds, tents threatening to get uprooted - and while the team panicked, this guide was captain cool. He did nothing - not even stepping out of the tent - but when we walked up to him - in the middle of the night, he was awake and asked us to stay put and reassured that they were around. Lesson: Stay calm in crises. Dont Panic.

Post storm- the next morning, we all went to him and asked him if the trek has to be called off. He said, we will take a call based on the weather - worst case, we will wait out a day till the weather clears and do a day hike. But he said, with a little effort we can still complete the trek as planned. Either way he said, lets wait for a few hours and take a call based on the situation. And a few hours later, we were on our way - shaken, but he said, I will get you there in 5 hours - and he did - to the minute. Lesson: Do not dismiss the fears of your team, but do not encourage them either. Lead from the front with confidence.

There were people of varying fitness levels - almost Level 1 to 5 on a scale of 5. Whenever Level 5 went too far or Level 1 lagged behind, he took a break (mostly at some turning point) to ensure the group stayed compact. Sometimes he was ahead, sometimes behind - leading from the front or encouraging from the back, but he was never out of eyesight for too long. Lesson: Be visible - on the front.

There were foreigners - and he was not the most comfortable with English - but he communicated with the team at every point. He sat to learn English from the foreigner (thats the only way my English will improve, he said), he spoke about the topics of interest to each team member as the trek went along. Lesson: Communicate - with empathy. Most of the communication was about us - not him. And learn. So what if you know everything - the guide knew the terrain inside out - he was still learning from every trek he went on.

Each day after the trek ended - he took care of his staff - talking to them, encouraging them, getting them to mingle with us. His staff was hardly comfortable with Hindi - leave along English - and were very simple rural folk, but he ensured that we all bonded over a bonfire. Lesson: Bonding of teams needs to be worked on constantly.

At no point, did he assert his superiority over us - though he was vastly superior in terms of terrain, fitness, knowledge. He made us feel comfortable at every stage. Lesson: Take your team with you.

When each of us asked how we were doing - his answer was the same - you are doing well to your capacity. "Theek hi ho" - was his lingo for "you are doing well".  Lesson: Keep the encouragement going.

Each day his team started with a prayer to the "Devta" to assure the safety of the trek. On the way, if any "devta" was not in good shape - the small shrines along the way - he ensured that it was made alright. Lesson: Abide by the values of the place.

Was it tough? Yes
Did we enjoy the journey? Yes
Did we reach the goal? Yes

Epilogue: At many parts of the trek, the goal seemed unreachable. At no point did he scare us of the enormity of the goal (it was big for us). He broke the goal into small chunks, made us aware of the time it would take (based on his assessment of us as a team), kept us going, encouraged at every step without being in your face and celebrated the success each night with a bonfire and a good dinner.

And we enjoyed being led by this man - a simple young man from Himachal, who though uneducated by our standards -  was practicing many tenets of leadership that we find difficult to practice. Hats off to you Sanju.

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