Courage to Venture into the Unknown

In early 1995 I set out to complete the first ever ski crossing of Iceland from west to east coasts. It was a journey that many, including the Icelandic mountain rescue service, deemed an impossible journey due to the extreme rugged terrain and unpredictable weather. The journey was also the first time I had independently managed a ‘large scale’ adventure.

It took two years just to get the project off the ground, initially to convince backers of my ability to manage and lead such an ambitious undertaking and then to obtain permission from the Icelandic authorities who first viewed my quest as being impossible.

From the outset I knew the journey was achievable and I drew on that belief to continually motivate me forwards, despite considerable hurdles. But slowly momentum increased and eventually others came with me.

We succeeded in our venture, completing the crossing of Iceland in forty-seven days. A crossing that even today has not been repeated. The late Diana, The Princess of Wales, sent a personal letter congratulating me on the crossing highlighting courage, preparation, fitness and leadership as key contributors to our success.

Venturing into new territory requires considerable personal courage. The challenge is as much about maintaining your own motivation as you work to convince others around you to take a step with you. But having the courage to take the first step will often be sufficient enough to get the snowball slowly rolling.

Read more about my Icelandic crossing.


10 Success Insights from Polar Explorers

Although these insights were from successful polar explorers there are many lessons that can be learnt to your benefit...

1. Go for both poles.
We didn’t manage to even reach one Pole the first time. But we never lowered our goal. Our final success was so much greater in the face of it.

2. Seek out the winners.
We wouldn’t have made it without the aid of polar veterans, and they in turn learned from veterans before them. Every true success is a mankind joint venture.

3. Don’t cut food and fuel.
In the short run, dropping food and fuel increased our speed. In the long run, it killed our expedition. Don’t undercut your survival.

4. Face the storm.
Hiding out in a tent waiting for the sunny days steals crucial time. A storm always looks the worst from inside the tent.

5. Get out each morning Get out there, every single day.
There are so many reasons not to - repairs badly needed, fatigue and whiteout. The winner moves when the others rest.

6. Keep moving.
In temperatures of -50C, we wore only thin layers of clothing. In this situation, to stop was to die. When times are rough and you are the underdog, keep running.

7. Don’t think.
Skiing thin ice commands swift and determined steps. Too much doubt in times of pressure kills the power of action.

8. Be brutal
If you want to reach the impossible then you must continue where others stop. Tear down walls with your bare hands, crawl on your knees. But never stop.

9. Say only positive things to each other.
The single, most important piece of advice - 'Say only positive things to each other.'

10. You don’t have to believe to win.
Faced with the facts, we couldn't believe in success. Yet it arrived. You don’t have to believe in success. Just do the right things. And go.

Another important insight is the subject of, what I call leadershift. This is when the mantle of leadership moves within the team. This is a step beyond empowerment, where more often than not individuals still have constraints or parameters to operate within. Leadership is a clear decentralisation of control to another member of the team, where there initiative and judgement is totally uninhibited.

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Never Give Up

An important attribute of the high performance leader is the ability to never give up. This does not mean carrying on regardless with something that is destined to fail, but about recognising that success is achievable but it will not always be easy and will take time and effort. Here my tips for Never Giving Up:

Remember Why

Remembering how your journey started and why you are on it will help you to recommit to it. By reminding yourself of your desired outcome will generate internal energy and encouragement. All too often, especially during minor setbacks, we can get bogged down in the details and forget the overall driver that was the original source of enthusiasm. Personal, team and written commitments are a great source of inspiration for never giving up. A commitment written down and displayed has more impact than one discussed or thought about.

Keep Walking

As long as you keep moving, one step at a time, you will move towards your goal. On one of my polar journeys I coined the phrase ‘keep walking scheme of manoeuvre’ and had the catch phrase ‘keep walking’ written on charts, printed on mugs and even on the inside of the tent so the first thing we saw as we woke each morning was ‘keep walking’.

Refocus Mindset

If you have experienced previous successes think about how that made you feel. If not, imagine yourself, having achieved the result you were aiming for, looking back past all setbacks, realising that you had the confidence and energy to succeed.

Maintain Momentum

During one particular North Pole one of my team members sustained frostbite and I made the decision to have him airlifted off the ice. We had lost a valued team member, and our goal to complete the journey ‘unsupported’ had now changed. With the loss of a team member we were now classed as being ‘supported’ with our extracted team member being considered as supporting part of the journey.

My priority was to realign focus back on the journey, and a new goal ‘to reach the pole’. As soon as the emergency airlift had been completed I briefed the team that we would immediately continue and we completed a four hour ski before setting up camp. We could have waited until the following day before carrying on, but it was important for me to have everyone’s attention on the ‘here and now’ as quickly as possible.

Teambuilding Tactics from Winning Polar Teams

Based on a case study by TMS Development International Ltd on how I used the Team Management Profile to create and sustain high performance during my ground-breaking North & South Pole journey.
Building an effective team

Regardless of each individual's skills, experience and character, to succeed, it was essential that everyone was committed to working together as a team. To do this they needed to understand and appreciate the value of each member's team role.

Teamwork strategies

I believe that employee empowerment, and a teambuilding approach, enables people to make better decisions. Using the Team Management Profile, I was able to build this into my expedition strategies.

Leadership at all levels

Through real experiences on these increasingly demanding journeys, I have realised that peak performance develops when the function of leadership exists throughout the team. The ability to know when to lead and when to follow, and generating the levels of trust within the team that allow leadership to shift from one person to another, are crucial ingredients for developing high performance.

My top 5 teambuilding tactics

1. Respect individual perspectives by sharing Profiles within the team.

Before each expedition, I gave each team member an A4 photo sheet, with contact details and their team mates' major and related role Wheel 'segments'. This was a real prompt for effective communication. When contacting a Controller-Inspector, I would remember his preference for more detailed background and send an email. Likewise, I would give a Thruster-Organiser a brief summary, or a phone call.

2. Move from working groups to teams.

Build ‘Tent-Time’ discussions into your project. Once our chores were done, we took 20 minutes to review progress and look ahead at our strategy and progress towards the next goal. This open and honest discussion ensured that everyone felt comfortable raising leadership or team issues. Any successful team should always ask, 'How can we improve?'

3. Avoid role gaps by compensating for missing team roles.

The Margerison-McCann Types of Work Model is a useful project planning tool to ensure all work areas are covered. We set a 'green' or Reporter-Advisor agenda item so that we would cover our main role gap. After a while, it became natural to gather more information before making decisions.

4. Pace team members throughout the challenge.

For the South Pole, I created a pacing profile for each team member, listing their likes and dislikes. I gave each of them a copy of these notes to look at after they had completed their daily journals. This was a useful mental reminder for the following day of how to communicate most effectively.

5. Use the Team Management Systems approach every day.

Our jackets had the Team Management Wheel sewn onto them, so we had a constant visual reminder of the importance of good communication during our journey.

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Leadershift© - A Practical Art

Leading for Ultimate Performance

Leadership excellence is the second most powerful human force in the world, the most powerful being love. Leadership excellence has shaped the world since the earliest days of mankind. Leadership is arguably the greatest single business performance and success factor; it impacts every area of an organisation. What is interesting about leadership is that it means different things to different people.

Some Current Thoughts on Leadership

Leadership is widely considered to be directly linked to business performance and a recent Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development survey explored this further:

- 91% believe there is a link between leadership training and organisational performance.
- 85% of the organisations were involved in some form of leadership development.


- 8% believed that their leadership development activities were very effective.
- 31% felt their leadership activities were not very effective.

Surprised ?

Research suggests that whilst the majority agree there is a direct link between training and performance, yet many have had an experience that has not satisfied their expectations and many still believe there is a shortage of highly effective leaders.

To Lead of Follow

Having spent over two decades in positions of formal leadership as an Officer in the Royal Marines, and as a Polar Explorer and management consultant I am aware of the importance and value of leadership to any team, and any organisation. It is critical to success. However, it is the implementation and how an individual delivers leadership that is important. In terms of peak performance teams, leadership becomes and even more critical element of team dynamics and can make the difference between an average team and one that really does deliver extraordinary results time and time again.

I call this style of leadership within a peak performance context – Leadershift©. In order to embrace the philosophy of Leadershift it is important to have a brief overview of some of the fundamentals of management. This understanding will put Leadershift© into context and enable you to embrace the art much more effectively.

What is Management?
There are many definitions of management, but put simply. It is the direction, coordination and control of business assets. It has a legal status codified in Companies Act (and other legislation) with the exercise of management including the process by which a manager makes decisions and impresses his will on, and transmits his intentions to his staff.

The Elements of Management

1. Authority
Authority involves the legal right to enforce disciplinary action. Although a manager may delegate specific authority, he retains overall responsibility.

2. Responsibility
Responsibility involves liability and obligation to answer to senior management/board members for the proper use of delegated responsibility, authority and resources; it includes the duty to act

3. Accountability
Therefore the manager who delegates responsibility should grant sufficient authority to enable the individual to fulfill the role, meanwhile the individual remains accountable to his immediate report for his actions.

The Roles of Management

If we look at the roles of managers we can identify three key areas of responsibility:

1. Control
Managers must have continuing oversight, direction and coordination of the organisations resources, although the detailed activity is often a subordinate aspect and a province of junior staff. Most activities within this area of responsibility should be delegated; however the reality is that many managers spend more time than they should undertaking Control functions.

2. Decision-Making
For the effective manager the art of effective and timely decision-making is a key role, particularly with regard to major decisions that impact on organisational strategy. Minor decision-making should be delegated to the lowest level possible in line with requisite experience, capability and capacity of the junior manager.

3. LeadershipManagement is also about leadership and the art of motivating and directing personnel into action to accomplish outputs is a fundamental requirement of any successful manager.

Leadership takes many forms and much has been written about the subject, but it still remains one of the least understood and misused skill within the manager’s toolbox.

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Explore the Wheel of High Performance

On all of my polar journeys the area that takes most of my attention is the development of my team. I attract together a group of individuals and over a short period of time have to develop them into a high performance team capable of achieving some seemingly impossible polar journeys. One of my techniques it to use a proven psychometric tool called the Margerison McCann Team Management Profile.

This is an extensively researched tool that through a comprehensive questionnaire delivers a 5,000 word personalised report that looks at where your motivation lies, how you can best contribute to team success and how you are likely to lead, manage and link with others who may have different perspectives on the world of work. It can be used with team members, managers and leaders, but is at its most powerful when used to build and sustain high performance teams.

Explore more about this and other powerful perfromance tools at TMSDI


Tent Time

Team cohesion is essential in high performance teams, it is the glue that binds the individuals as one and provides the resilience and confidence to overcome setbacks.

During my expeditions, at the end of each day’s hauling our tent time was important in maintaining team cohesion. We discuss the day’s progress and review future strategy. I facilitate discussions to actively encourage communications on both positive and concerning aspects, any grievances should be aired.

The tent time was a real highlight of the day for laughter on the day’s tribulations, to share experiences or learn a useful tip that someone had uncovered by chance. And for me as leader it gave an opportunity to gauge individual’s mental and physical state. Relating this to business I encourage weekly ‘tent-time’ meetings for reflection and review.


Discretion is Better Than Disaster

During one of my early attempts to ski unsupported to the geographical North Pole, a fuel leak from a damaged fuel can in my sledge contaminated our radio batteries. The fuel caused the battery to short and without power the radio and other vital safety equipment could not be used. This was a major setback and a serious blow to the team who had spent two years preparing for this journey. Fortunately, I was carrying a small emergency beacon that I activated to alert our home team that we had a problem.

Two days later a light aircraft appeared and, using ground to air VHF radio, I was able to explain the situation. Unfortunately, the aircraft had no spare batteries onboard. It was decision time. With no radio link to our home team do we continue, or do we abort? It would take too long for the aircraft to return with a new battery, as the Arctic sea ice would melt before we reached the Pole creating even greater risks. I made the decision to abort.

However, landing an aircraft on a frozen Arctic Ocean is not straight forward because aircraft need large areas of flat, obstacle-free stable ice to land on. After looking for somewhere nearby to land the pilot informed us that the closest safe landing strip was some thirty miles away - behind us. We had no option but to retrace our steps and rendezvous with the aircraft later.

The decision to abort did not sit well with some who, understandably, were focused on reaching the Pole having invested so much time and energy over the preceeding months, and despondency began to surface. This could be dangerous in the Arctic where a lack of focus can lead to serious accidents, and we still faced a long journey ahead. Although disappointed at the situation, I had to quickly move on from the setback, refocus my mindset and critically refocus team efforts onto the new plan and ultimately return everyone safely - which we did.

Not every act or decision you make will be fully supported by your team. In fact, there will be times as a leader that you may feel very alone. This is when a leader needs the courage to make the decisions that are for the greater good of the team, and having made those decisions, work to realign team efforts to new goals and objectives. As HRH Prince Phillip said to me on my return ‘discretion is better than disaster’.

Explore more at Leading High Performance Teams

Laying the Foundations for Success

A great tool to lay the foundations upon which to build and sustain high performance is the Team Charter. A Team Charter specifies the purpose of a team, the boundaries of its scope and authority, creates team cohesion and articulates expectations of team membership.

Although usually produced by the formal team leader this does not always have to be the case. What is important is that once produced the charter is shared with the team. Individuals should be encouraged to discuss the charter, offer suggestions for changes and agree its final content. Frequently reviewing roles, communications strategies and resource allocation will ensure that the charter remains current.

It is important that the charter is ‘owned’ by the team in order for them to become responsible for working as a team within its framework. Team members must be accountable to the team charter. If team members are not working within the charter framework, discuss the matter with the individual sooner rather than later to avoid damaging team cohesion.

Recommended contents are:
  • Vision - A compelling vision will develop and sustain a culture of high performance.
  • Mission - A mission, the team knows what it has to achieve.
  • Communications - Agree how information will be shared among the team, the organisation and stakeholders.
  • Decision-Making - Agree how decisions will be reached.
  • Roles - Define each team member’s responsibility.
  • Resources - List the resources needed to accomplish goals (include people and time).
Explore more in Leading High Performance Teams


Food for Thought

When I set out to complete my groundbreaking return ski to the South Pole I knew that food would be pivotal to our success.

Studies had shown that a polar adventurer needs to consume at least 5,000 calories (kcals) a day to offset the high expenditure associated with hauling a heavily laden sled in sub zero temperatures. One study in Antarctica reported expenditure levels as high as 8,000kcals. Another important factor would be weight. Whatever we took, we would have to drag in our sled behind us. Team stores, spare clothing, communications equipment, fuel and food - enough to survive and operate for up to 75-days. For food, the target was to get as many calories as possible, but to keep the weight at 1kg per man/per day.

This involved lots of research to identify possible food items, calculate weights, discover kcal content and design a menu that would 'fit' with our journey. We ended up with 4,350kcals increasing to 5,750kcals as the journey unfolded. Having finalised the menu the focus then became one of procurement by seeking sponsorship from suppliers. Once procured we then moved onto the time-consuming task of removing all the original wrapping and repacking the rations in 'ready to use' packs.

As an example, each day we had a travel snack pack. It consisted of 3 x chocolate bars, 2 x packets of biscuits and 2 packets of nuts. All the original packaging was removed and the items were put in a single ziplock bag - that saved a lot of weight and extra rubbish to carry.

As the ‘ration project’ evolved, I purposely rotated ownership of the project among team members. This achieved several benefits. Firstly, because all individuals have a natural preference for a 'type of work' I sought to utilise this in order to get the maximum outputs from the team. Some liked to collect and study information (ideal for leading the research stage), others were more creative and extroverted (ideal for procurement) and others enjoyed detailed work (ideal for concluding the ration process). This rotation of ownership also helped generate individual ownership of the expedition, reinforce self-belief and improve cohesion and decision-making skills.

One great resource to explore individual work preferences further is - Margerison-McCann Team Management Profile.


Goal Setting

Teams tend to unite around a common goal. When one is not obvious, or indeed perceived to be out of reach, individuals will manifest their own and follow them. This can result in a breakdown in team cohesion with devastating results. During all my polar journeys I create a 'Keep Walking Scheme of Manoeuvre'; a planning aide that I first developed for my successful crossing of Iceland in 1994. The aide established a series of achievable goals that take into consideration terrain, fitness levels, sledge loads and altitude. When I left the edge of Antarctica heading for the South Pole I was not focused on the Pole some 700 miles away, but on a point 60 miles away. It is much easier to focus on small steps.

Keeping Your Team On Track

Having assumed leadership of a new team or group, or on taking over an existing one, your first task is to create a team charter. A team charter is a vital tool in your toolbox and creates the foundations upon which to build and sustain high performance. It specifies the purpose of a team, the boundaries of its scope and authority, creates team cohesion and articulates expectations of team membership.

Whoever is creating the team should produce the team charter and share it with the team at its first meeting. This may not always be the formal leader. Individuals should be encouraged to discuss the charter, offer suggestions for changes and agree its final content. Frequently reviewing roles, communications strategies and resource allocation will ensure that the team charter remains current.

It is important that the charter is ‘owned’ by the team in order for them to become responsible for working as a team within its framework. Team members must be accountable to the team charter. If team members are not working within the team charter framework, discuss the matter with the individual sooner rather than later to avoid damaging team cohesion.

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Adopt a Positive Viewpoint

Over my years as a polar expedition leader and Officer in the elite Royal Marines I have identified nine common characteristics in winning teams. Here is the first one 'Maintain a positive viewpoint'

In the current world of global complexities, it is easy to lose heart when things start to go wrong or when unexpected issues threaten to derail even the best laid plans. An ability to take things in your stride and to stay optimistic can make the difference between ultimate success and failure.

Challenges are rarely dealt with by sole individuals, so the impact of the leader on the team has to be taken into account. An optimistic leader, with a 'can do' mentality, will have a major impact on the rest of the team. Find a successful and energetic leader in any field and one can also find a person who is relentlessly positive.

Emotional stress, which is often self-imposed, takes a toll on your energy, filling your mind with clutter that interferes with your pitch or presentation. So get rid of it. A positive mood will raise your energy, give power to your words, and boost your professional presence. Using positive language when talking to yourself releases powerful endorphins, or feel good chemicals, in your brain. These are same type of chemicals released during exercise. Do you see the connection? By getting more sleep, more exercise, and thinking more uplifting thoughts, your energy will soar. Your colleagues and customers will notice.

While others around you may feel like having their heads down, your positive attitude will ensure that progress through difficulty will be maintained.

Avoid being crushed by the very thought of all the challenges of the task ahead, divide task up into a number of much smaller goals within immediate reach and focus on them only one at a time.

There is never any point at crying over setbacks - it happens. In order to win at some of the big goals you are bound to lose at others along the way.

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From Rocks to Bricks

I'm reading Narrative of a Voyage to the Polar Sea, the journals penned by Sir George Nares during his leadership of the British Arctic Expedition 1875-76, and came across the following passage;

‘At 10pm we arrived at Cape Isabella, and on Commander Markham climbing up to the depot he found the package of letters and newspapers left there by Sir Allen Young a few weeks previously; we gathered from them that a duplicate packet had been carried on to Cape Sabine.’

The practice in early polar exploration was to deposit letters, documents and progress updates in rock cairns built high on prominent landmarks and in view of passing explorers. The contents would be removed by these fellow explorers and eventually find there way to their destination – a letter arriving 2 years later was not uncommon. How times have changed…

At 18.34 GMT on the 1st April 1998, in a temperature of -30°C, I stood at the magnetic North Pole joined by eight Year 9 and l0 students (aged 13 to 15) and two teachers from Robertsbridge Community College in East Sussex. History had been made as it was the first British school party to reach the Pole and for good measure, 14-year-olds John and William Rigby claimed their own piece of the limelight in being the first twins in the world ever to set foot there!

The expedition, named Polar Watch, was the culmination of a grander geographical North Pole expedition that I was leading and set out to bring the ‘polar adventure’ to the classroom, or armchair. Internet was in its infancy and this was new territory. The BBC ran a piece in its Sci/Tech section titled ‘Internet to track North Pole walkers’. The tracking was quite rudimentary – we would call our UK Base Camp using HF Radio (relayed through a radio station in North Scotland) and answer questions that had been submitted by students and our website would be updated by our base Camp team afterwards. Of course this was assuming we were able to make radio contact in the first place.

In 2007 I lead a similar venture, with schools this time tracking my progress to both North and South Poles and a student expedition to the High Arctic and North Pole. Technology had advanced considerably by then and utilising Humanedgetech™ technology (www.humanedgetech.com) and equipped with satellite handsets, PDA’s and solar panels I was able to send text and images direct to the expedition website. Using a web-based map our position could be updated 'from the ice' as we inched ever closer towards the Poles.

This year Briton Felicity Aston (@felicity_Aston) completed the 1st female solo supported crossing of Antarctica – she ‘tweeted’ her way across using a satellite handset to send a tweet (a message restricted to 140 characters) each day to the outside world. Each tweet was automatically fed into a number of other social platforms such as Facebook, Linked and Blogger and streamed onto a multitude of individual websites and mobile phones.

In her sledge she carried a small yellow device, aptly named Yellowbrick (www.yellowbrick-tracking.com), which automatically transmitted her position every 5 minutes, and via satellite updated a web-based map of Antarctica. Live tracking step-by-step.

It will be interesting to see where technology takes polar exploration next!

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