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How John Maxwell’s Law of Mount Everest Can Help Us Through Self-Isolation

Executive Summary

The Law of Mount Everest states that as the challenge escalates, the need for teamwork elevates.

  • If we try to tackle challenges alone, we’ll only spiral into failure.
  • Our goals are still achievable, but we may need to adjust the teams we’re relying on to help us reach them.
  • It’s better to create a team to improve the lives of others long-term than to fulfill individual needs short-term.

Editor's Note: The challenges that our teams face are not always ones we select. Sometimes they are thrust upon us, and we have no choice but to do the best we can with the team we have, or give up and suffer the consequences.

The day after my musician friend lost his Broadway gigs because of coronavirus closures, he was hustling. He sold $120 worth of plastic and metal barrels from the dump to a man in East Tennessee. Together, we hosed the insides of the barrels so he could make it to the buyer’s location on time.

Two people doesn’t seem like a team, but these days, it’s all both of us have got. With most of our friends holed up in their apartments in the city and our families self-isolating in towns hours away, our normal support networks have shrunk.

Americans haven’t quite gone through anything like this. We’ve never been told to stay in our homes except for essential travel outside of a really bad snow day. Companies have rarely eliminated their entire workforce overnight, leaving people without jobs. And we’re just now realizing how much we truly rely on others to get through one day.

  • We rely on our babysitters to watch the kids while we’re away from work.
  • We rely on the grocery store to keep our favorite brand of cereal in stock.
  • We rely on our friends to fill our free time with something other than Netflix binges.
  • We rely on our coworkers or employees to be in their swivel chairs at 9 a.m. sharp every weekday morning.

There’s nothing we can do alone. If we’re going to get through this period of self-isolation, we’re going to have to start thinking about the teams in our lives: what we need from them and what we can give to them.

To persevere through modified ways of living life and conducting business, we need the collaboration of creative, flexible, and motivated teams. John Maxwell’s Law of Mount Everest explains exactly why we won’t make it through this storm if we aren’t willing to share the sunshine.

The Law of Mount Everest

Only someone who has climbed a formidable mountain knows what it takes to make it to the top. For thirty-two years, between 1920 and 1952, seven major expeditions tried—and failed—to make it to the top of Mount Everest. Tenzing Norgay was on six of those expeditions, as well as many other high climbs to other mountains. Of the teamwork involved to reach the peaks, Tenzing remarked…

“You do not climb a mountain like Everest by trying to race ahead on your own, or by competing with your comrades. You do it slowly and carefully, by unselfish teamwork. Certainly I wanted to reach the top myself; it was the thing I had dreamed of all my life. But if the lot fell to someone else I would take it like a man, and not a cry-baby. For that is the mountain way.”

You may not be a mountain climber, and you may not have any desire to reach the summit of Everest. But I bet you have a dream.

If you have a dream, you need a team to accomplish it. How do you approach the task of putting together a team to accomplish your dream? I think the best way to start is to ask yourself three questions:

  1. “What Is My Dream?”

It all starts with this question because your answer reveals what could be. What lies in your heart? What do you see as a possibility for your life? What would you like to accomplish during your time on this earth? Only a dream will tell you such things. If you want to do something great, you must have a dream. But a dream is not enough. You can fulfill a dream only if you are part of a team and experiencing teamwork.

  1. “Who Is on My Team?”

This second question tells you what is. It measures your current situation. Your potential is only as good as your current team. That’s why you must examine who is joining you on your journey. A great dream with a bad team is nothing more than a nightmare.

  1. “What Should My Dream Team Look Like?”

The truth is that your team must be the size of your dream. If it’s not, then you won’t achieve it. You simply cannot achieve an ultimate number ten dream with a number four team. It just doesn’t happen. If you want to climb Mount Everest, you need a Mount Everest–sized team. There’s no other way to do it. It’s better to have a great team with a weak dream than a great dream with a weak team.

Focus on the Team, Not the Dream

One mistake I’ve seen people repeatedly make is that they focus too much attention on their dream and too little on their team. But the size of your team must be the size of your dream. The truth is that if you build the right team, the dream will almost take care of itself.

Every dream brings challenges of its own. The kind of challenge determines the kind of team you need to build. Consider a few examples:

team building by challenge

If you want to achieve your dream—I mean really do it, not just imagine what it would be like—then grow your team. But as you do so, make sure your motives are right.

Some people gather a team just to benefit themselves. Others do it because they enjoy the team experience and want to create a sense of community. Still others do it because they want to build an organization.

The funny thing about these reasons is that if you’re motivated by all of them, then your desire to build a team probably comes from wanting to add value to everyone on the team. But if your desire to build the team comes as the result of only one of these reasons, you probably need to examine your motives.

Assess Your Teamwork Levels

Ask yourself the following questions to determine your natural response to challenges and how you might better develop and lean into a dream team to improve your reactions.

  • What is your natural first reaction when a challenge becomes more difficult? Do you go off alone to think?
    • Do you try to solve the problem alone?
    • Do you stay away from other people to avoid the pressure?
    • Or do you lean on your teammates and let them lean on you?
  • What kinds of adjustments do you need to make to create your dream team, one that can meet the challenges ahead?
    • Do you need to spend more time developing your people?
    • Do you need to add key team members?
    • Or should you make changes to the leadership?

Adapted with permission from the 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork by John Maxwell, copyright John Maxwell. 

Bring It Home

My friend is most certainly on my dream team. He teaches me how to garden; I teach him how to bake. We use each other’s AAA when our cars break down or we lock our keys in the trunk (yep, guilty as charged). For the challenges we’re facing today, my dream team rises to the occasion even when we’re in self-isolation. Who is your dream team in life and at work? How are staying connected with your team even though you’re apart? Comment below with a review of your team.

John Maxwell

John C. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, coach, and author who has sold over 19 million books. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP and the John Maxwell Company, organizations that have trained more than 5 million leaders worldwide.

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