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A Done Done Culture: Habit Two

This is part two in a twelve part series on developing a “Done Done” culture of high performance and personal accountability. If you’re just getting here, you can go back and read part one first.

They Act even when they don’t Feel like it

Klein wasn’t the only one busy in 1985. While he was doing research, two guys – Joe and Simon – decided they wanted to do something no one else had ever done. Joe Simpson and Simon Yates decided they wanted to climb the west face of Siula Grande, in the Peruvian Andes. Others had tried it but at that time, no one had made the climb successfully. Additionally, they were going to go after it “alpine” style – an approach to mountain climbing that eliminates fixed camps along the way, fixed ropes, and the use of additional oxygen. You and I might call it “pure” climbing.

You can read the details of the climb and descent in Simpson’s book, Touching the Void, but I’ll share the overview with you. I’m not ruining anything because you don’t read the book for the plot line. You read it for the detail.

A successful climb

The two young guys make the ascent successfully (see, told you I’d be quick). The trouble started when they made their way down the mountain. Joe slipped and broke his leg. Not a little break – a painful shoving of his tibia into the knee joint. That’s some major pain. To say this was bad news doesn’t begin to cover it. They had already run out of some of their supplies and this just made things worse.

Simon tied two ropes together and around Joe and would lower him down the mountain. Because of the large knot in the middle of these two ropes, every now and then Joe would have to find a way to hold his own weight (on a ledge) while Simon would get things moving again. It was a slow process that seemed to be working until Simon lowered Joe over a cliff. There was no place for Joe to hold up, and so there they were…Simon waiting for the tug from Joe to let him know he could work with the knot and Joe hanging there without any way to signal anything.

A horrible situation

It was a horrible situation. The longer they hung there, the worse things got. It was clear that Joe couldn’t climb up. It was clear that Simon couldn’t pull Joe up. And it was clear that if they stayed like this much longer, they’d both fall to their deaths. So Yates made the only decision he could. He cut the rope! In a life or death situation where he had to choose between both of them dying, or just Joe falling to his death, Simon decided to save himself.

I can see what you’re thinking already. He was selfish. He was horrible. He should have tried harder. And ultimately, “why are you telling me this story Chris?” Well, the story isn’t over. Simon was able to get to cover and hold out while a storm passed. Then he made it down the mountain and got ready to clear up camp and take off. Joe, on the other hand, fell into a crevasse but didn’t die. Oh trust me, you know he thought about it. No food. No water. No supplies (except a cut rope). He wanted to stop making decisions and slowly just fade away. But instead, he made his way back – hiking 5 miles over 3 days without food or water, and with a broken leg.

Two guys who faced horribly difficult choices. You know what they didn’t do? They didn’t delegate the decision to someone else. They didn’t pass the choice to someone else. They had to make a call, and more than a decision, they had to take an action at the exact moment when they didn’t want to.

The Mann Gulch Fire

Let me tell you another story about a different high performer. Since we’ve been talking about fire fighters, consider Wag Dodge. In the summer of 1949 he found himself, and his crew of parachute firemen, in the midst of a Mann Gulch fire that was out of control in Montana. The fire jumped the gulch and he was suddenly facing a tall and fast-moving wall of flames. Every internal instinct was to run. He shouted to retreat but it’s unclear who heard him. At the same time, he did his own calculations (while running), and it was clear this fire was going to catch his team before they got to the ridge.

So he stopped. And started a new fire. Can you imagine what his guys were thinking? Maybe they thought he was calling it quits. After all, they weren’t feeling particularly happy either.

But he wasn’t taking steps to die in his own way. Instead he was creating a fire that would burn the ground. With nothing on the ground to burn, the coming wall of fire would naturally move around him.

Thirteen of his fifteen guys died that day. They died because a fire came at them too quickly. They died because stopping when you’re running from a fire just doesn’t feel right. They died because they trusted their emotions right at the moment when their emotions betrayed them.

Tough Choices

I don’t know if I’ve written before about one of the most difficult business decisions I ever had to make, but I remember it like it really took place yesterday. March 3rd, 2000. How do I remember the date? Simple, it was three days before my brother’s birthday. Three days before the weekend was going to start. And three days before we were going to close down my second start-up company because it didn’t look like we were going to be able to raise another round of financing. The hard decision wasn’t closing the company down. The hard decision was whether or not to tell my brother that he’d be out of work in three days, even though he had two kids. We weren’t telling employees. He was an employee. But he was my brother. Did I act as a brother or as an executive? Which was right? I was sick for those three days, but I made the call to say nothing. I’m still not sure it was the right call and it was over twelve years ago. But I know this – I made the call, even though I didn’t want to. And in the end, everything worked out because we raised another round of financing in two and a half days.

The Second Habit of a “Done Done” Culture

Just because you don’t feel like making a tough decision doesn’t mean you should walk away from it or delay it at all. High performers know that their feelings are simply feelings, not decisions. So when it’s time to make a challenging call, they don’t shy away from the tough decisions in life.

These stories highlight a series of decisions that seem wrong but end up being right. But that’s not the main takeaway. I’m not suggesting you second-guess every one of your decisions. The takeaway has more to do with the development and nurturing of the internal fortitude to make tough decisions even when you don’t want to.

High performance players step up to the plate and make the call, even if it means cutting a rope that will lead to someone else’s death. They step up and make the call, even if everyone else thinks they’re crazy.

So let me ask you this single question. When your employee relates a tough decision to you and asks you what the call is, do you turn it around and ask them to make the tough call instead? Or do you make all the tough calls – robbing them of the learning experience?

Team Discussion

Here are some questions that are worth exploring with your team:

  1. What are some of the big and tough decisions we’ve had to make this year?

  2. Who has made the final call?

  3. Have we ever pushed that decision-making lower to create learning opportunities?

  4. What scares you about those tough decisions?

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