A Critical Business “Must Do” – Share It At Your Peril

421107There was a disaster on the mountain K2 a few years back,  where a large number of climbers were killed. A survivor outlined his perception of what caused the tragedy. It was a simple truth that lives every day in our business lives, and beyond. It’s not for sharing. You absolutely HAVE to do it alone. Here it is.

Several groups of climbers, of various nationalities, had ended up at the same point at the same time on the climb to the summit of K2, one of the highest peaks in the world. Huddled together that night, they agreed to continue the last stage to the top as one group. They split up and shared the responsibilities amongst the teams. That sealed their fate. The next day, a series of simple mountaineering sacrosanct rules were broken, and many climbers plunged to their deaths.

What went wrong? Simply this:

When you share responsibility, you relax.

There was a scenario at work some years ago. We were planning to merge two businesses, where we believed 1+1=3… that the combination of these two teams would create a more powerful, leading edge capability in their business. My colleague wanted to oversee the process of communicating and managing the changes to one of the businesses, and I’d do the other, and then they would begin the process of merging with both of us supervising. NO FRICKEN WAY! One person HAS to be ultimately accountable and responsible, keeping the view across every aspect of the project, living and breathing it, ensuring that no stone is left unturned.

By sharing responsibility, inevitably, critical steps would be missed, inaccurate assumptions made, key conversations not held, and mistakes would inevitably unfold.

That’s what happened on K2 that day. Each team assumed  the other groups were ticking the boxes on vital steps. They all relaxed. And when you relax, it’s a ticking clock to disaster.

So here’s the message.


Take full responsibility whenever you are able to. Make it clear that the buck stops with you. Ensure your colleagues know exactly what is expected of them, and what they can expect from you. But YOU take the initiative to lead, to sweat every aspect, to be persistently relentless in ensuring no relaxation- no slip ups, no oversight.

And if you are NOT responsible, clarify up front who is, and ensure you’re aligned on exactly what is expected of your role in the project.

When you are in a key leadership role, the ‘buck’ always stops with you, right. That means you don’t blame others when things go wrongs. You take it, learn the valuable lesson, grow from it, and move on. But that does not mean every project is 100% your operational responsibility to get done. That’s impossible. This is where we work with colleagues and share the workload. That’s fine.

But ensure absolute clarity as to expectations, and who is responsible. And if it is you, then step up and deliver.

Make sure there is no room for ‘sharing’ that buck on a specific project – it either stops with you, or it stops with your colleague. Clarity. And then no relaxation until it is nailed…until you’ve reached the peak, and got home safely.

It’s a lesson those climbers learnt that sad day on K2, many paying the ultimate price in the process. Learn from it. Never share responsibility (oh, but always share the credit).

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16 Responses to A Critical Business “Must Do” – Share It At Your Peril

  1. Matt Hingerty January 14, 2015 at 10:30 am #

    Nice Chris. I’m doing an MBA and the first topic is “Leadership”. I can put down my textbooks. Its all here.

    • Chris Savage January 14, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

      Study hard, Matt!

  2. Jane Jordan January 14, 2015 at 10:34 am #

    Good post Chris. I agree totally.

    • Chris Savage January 14, 2015 at 8:35 pm #

      Thanks Jane!

  3. Gael Oliveres January 14, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

    Happy New Year Chris! Great post – it rings true on so many levels. Will share this with the team in KL as a nice reminder of taking responsibility, accountability and to think about consequences for every action. Thanks for sharing!

    • Chris Savage January 14, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

      Good to hear from you, Gael.

  4. Elaine Alberts January 14, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    brilliant analogy or accountably and where the buck should stop. Great lesson for all aspects of life. Love it! Thank you

    • Chris Savage January 14, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

      Pleasure, Elaine. Chris

  5. Sing Ling January 14, 2015 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    A Happy New Year to you, your family and your team. Great blog mate.


    • Chris Savage January 18, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

      Thanks Sing.

  6. Jayne Albiston (@jaynealbiston) January 14, 2015 at 8:38 pm #

    Brilliant reminder Chris. Thank you so much for sharing this one. It seems too often these days it is all about team work. Team work is great as long as there is a strong leader who is taking responsibility as you so rightly point out. Excellent.

    • Chris Savage January 16, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

      Thanks Jayne!

  7. Sylviane Camus January 15, 2015 at 12:00 am #

    You’re back! Happy new year. Thanks for your brilliant and inspiring vision I’m reading first thing in the morning every Wednesday here in Paris. Today’s a great one. Cheers.

    • Chris Savage January 16, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

      Thanks Sylviane- I was in Paris last week….a very stressful, tense and sad week for the city, though the march on Sunday was amazing. Chris

  8. Dave Nerz January 15, 2015 at 3:05 am #

    A good reminder at a good time of the year. Be responsible! Trust but verify? Share the success!

    • Chris Savage January 16, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

      Thanks Dave!

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