Mountain climbing is an excellent analogy for the leadership transformation that global healthcare needs, according to Peter Hillary.
The son of mountaineering legend Sir Edmund Hillary, and Ko Awatea director Professor Jonathon Gray’s surprise plenary guest, says much can be learned from the 1953 expedition that saw Sir Edmund and Tenzing Norgay reach the summit of Mt Everest.
“People know Hillary and Tenzing reached the top, what they don’t know is that there had been so many attempts.”
Mr Hillary says the difference in the 1953 attempt was the use of a strategy – one which still forms the basic template for expeditions that happen today.
Speaking to Ko Awatea after stunning audiences during Professor Gray’s rousing plea for better leadership in healthcare and the launch of World Health CLIMB – College of Leadership, Innovation, Management and Beliefs, he said at 8000 feet (what is known as the ‘death zone’ in climbing) people are not at their best.
“You have to acclimatise and that takes five to six weeks. [You] need to have the right skills and responses that are basically hardwired into your system. Responses only come from experience,” he says.
In challenging situations there is a need to constantly reassess the self and team and for this to become second nature.
Good leadership, he says is about respect.
“You’ve got to guide this ship. If you don’t respect all the people involved in this journey, you’re not going to engage their trust.”
Mr Hillary says leadership also requires humility, noting his father did not slide into conceit despite his remarkable achievement.
He recognises the need for healthcare leaders to be trained specifically in leadership, commenting it is unreasonable to expect clinicians who suddenly find themselves as heads of departments to pick up these skills by osmosis.
He admires many different leaders and reserves a special respect for healthcare workers.
“They are extraordinary people out there.”