Executive Commentary
Despite the spelling, there’s no “I” in Kilimanjaro
Eric Jouane
Eric Jouane
Senior Vice President,
Facilities Management,
Sodexo North America

We were about three-fourths of the way up the mountain and my friend’s breath grew rocky in the thinning air. He needed a break. He might need to turn back. The guide told the rest of our group to continue onward and he’d wait with my friend.

Nope. We were a team. If one member faltered, we would all stay to support him.

That was one of my most searing memories of my recent Mt. Kilimanjaro trek, and one that reminded me how important teamwork is in all aspects of life.

Whether at home, in the office or climbing to the roof of Africa, a strong sense of partnership among the group is one of the most crucial aspects of achieving success. I certainly witnessed on our trek time and time again how together we helped each other overcome individual missteps and muster a courage greater than our individual parts.

I can’t help but see that in the professional world, too, prideful rejection of prudence does not end well.

My Kilimanjaro journey began as an idea decades ago. I had lived in worked in Africa for several years and was moving to a new job on a new continent. I promised myself that I would one day return to climb the mountain. And, that I would do it to raise money to create opportunities in a part of the world I had come to love.

Reaching out to four friends spread across the globe, we devised our plan and partnered with Missions of Hope – an NGO we knew we could trust.

Preparation came with significant challenges. It took about six months of physical training to be ready for what would be a 7-day hike through every climate to an altitude of 19,000 feet. The fundraising was more complicated than expected. One friend had to drop out at the last minute.

Once we arrived in Tanzania, we met the guides and porters who would form the rest of our team. No one can make the trip up alone. These partners would be crucial to us not only as our guides, but also to our sprits and our very bodies. We ate and slept in tents together and they helped us avoid altitude sickness. As we hiked up through thinning altitude, they had us measure the oxygen in our blood, the results of which dictated how far we could travel.

One of the truths of this trek is that the more prideful climbers tend to encounter more challenges. The most prideful – those who ignore guidance and try to hide the blood results so they can continue the ascent more quickly, for instance, have met fatal consequences.

Now that I’ve been back a few weeks, I’ve thought about this several times. I can’t help but see that in the professional world, too, prideful rejection of prudence does not end well.

Fortunately, our team was careful. We measured our blood and trekked backward when necessary. We mentally prepared ourselves for the possibility of not making it. During that break three-fourths of the way up, we waited until our friend’s breath steadied and he could continue on with us.

On the final ascent, we each pushed ourselves further than we thought possible. Because we had been cautious on the way up, we had the physical ability to make it.

Together, we did it.

We made it to the top and we raised $10,000 to build a high school for girls in Kenya. For me, it was an achievement of a lifetime. But I will never think if it as my achievement. I will think if it as ours.

To learn more about Missions of Hope, check out their website.


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