Satish Man Pati makes me feel like a thimble of a man. Not because he’s full of great quotes like the title of this essay. Not because he climbed Mt. Everest like I decide to canoe across a lake. Not because he just looks like more of a man than I do. It’s because I watched him sitting with a tin cup filled with hot tea, smiling at 4000 meters as a fading sunset settled behind him on the Annapurna Range (Nepal) and he took the time to ask how I was doing. He watched with calm competence as his team methodically set up camp, assembled cooking stations, and prepared all that was needed to support myself and twenty six people during a trek in his native country. He was the captain of the ship, his love of the mountains surrounding him with good karma, a gentle smile creasing grizzled, unshaven cheeks even as countless details likely ran through his head. This guy who was responsible for so many people at the top of a mountain sipped his tea and asked how I was doing.
I am constantly trying to learn from people that I think are great leaders. And what I loved about Satish was that I knew he had a million things going on, but had that humble majesty of being able to focus on the happiness and safety of the people around him. He was really tuned in to everything, but never seemed to show it. He knew I was nervous about the safety of the students that had never been in the mountains but he took the time to check in to see if I was okay. He was on an emotional intelligence scale that was off the charts.
I took him aside as he sipped his tea, looking contentedly out onto the distant horizon. “Satish,” I asked. “What makes you such a great leader?” He laughed and of course said he was not such a great leader. I disagreed and told him that his team worshipped the ground he walked on. “I’m willing to do any job,” he said. “And I have. They see what I’ve done to get here and I treat them fairly. And I know each of them as people and they treat me the same. We are like family,” he added. “It’s more than a job.” Then what I observed from him that was absolute genius was that he knew his team so well he knew exactly what to expect from them and to put them in a position to be successful. He knew the guys that were the best left to be behind the scenes and the ones that could deal with my students. He knew the ones that could take on the leadership roles and the ones that needed to be told what to do. Not only did he have everyone on the bus, he had them in the right seats. They knew his expectations too. One of the members of the team left a new tin coffee pot that he had purchased at one of the tea houses at the top of the mountain that we had left the day before. It was a five hour climb back. Rather than tell him that it was okay and that they’d buy a new one, he made the guide go back and fetch it. And he did. Satish laughed at my amazement. “The details matter in the mountains,” he laughed. “He’ll remember that.”
When I asked about his relationship to the mountains, he looked past me into the distance and gave me an explanation of the ranges behind us and their connections to the local people. When he was finished, he looked right at me and said, “You have to take what the mountain gives you. You cannot fight that. If it rains, snows, fog, sunshine, whatever. You have to understand it and take it. You cannot fight that.” It sounded so simple, but I thought of how it went against just about everything you heard from adventurers. They fought, resisted what came at them and battled to overcome the obstacles in their way. Satish was not defeatist. Of course, his acceptance was similar to what you hear from great sea captains and those that listen to what their circumstances are telling them.
When you start this new school year, especially if you are going to a new school, take what the mountains give you. When there is chaos all around and you’re responsible for 30 people at a metaphorical 4000 meters, sip some tea from a tin cup, smile with grizzled cheeks, look out onto a setting sun, and realize that by the grace you show towards others and the gratitude you have for what you do in the majestic surroundings of wherever you are, that you got this.
Best of luck this year. The kids need you more than ever.