As part of the leadership academy, we had a very rare opportunity to meet and listen to, “the world’s greatest living explorer” Sir Ranulph Fiennes. His talk was focused around human resilience in extreme environments and situations based on his personal experiences.

His truly incredible life has taken him from serving in the British army, including the SAS, leading the first journey around the globe on its polar axis by surface means only and crossing Antarctica completely on foot. Despite suffering a heart attack and double bypass 4 months prior, he completed the 7x7x7 challenge at 58, which involves running 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents. At 65 he climbed Everest…

He began by stating his key motivator in life was his youth, believing this to be the case for the majority of humans, that childhood experiences often depict how the adult forms.
How they react to situations of adversity and in turn how much they achieve. He stated his early life he was an academic failure.

From there he took us on a whistle stop tour of his truly incredible life, starting with his 8 years in the SAS spending the second half joining the army of the Sultan of Oman where he initially gained his taste for travelling to remote places. After leaving the army, he decided to utilise his unique set of skills to search for the lost city of Iram. He spent countless expeditions trying to locate it and after 25 years eventually did (it was only 800 metres away from the HQ all along).

The bulk of his talk however was about his crossing of Antarctica which he confessed was his wife’s idea, not his. Some of the key factors in his success were common to many environments we may face in an IT consultancy.

  • Project planning
Sir Ranulph recited an interesting story of how 8 months before departing for the Antarctic they had meticulously organised the 6000 boxes of equipment and food they would have to leave in the snow upon arrival (for back up). Being aware that these boxes would be hidden by snow over time, he remembered where each box was by footsteps and what was in each box. His example was “30 steps right from the flag, 50 steps forward, box 242 contained eggs”.

  • Team Selection
His view was that tangible sets of skills are not the most important factors when selecting a team as they can be taught, but the personalities and characteristics that make up a person. These characteristics can’t be changed, easily at least. Being able to identify these factors when selecting a team, helps mitigate from the very beginning any team dynamic issues that could arise.

  • Motivation
We quickly realised his other motivator was his intense level of competitiveness and that led to him taking extreme sacrifices. Some of those mentioned involved losing 5 stone during the expedition (despite eating 8000 calories a day) due to the amount of effort of trawling the equipment, losing the tips of his fingers on his left hand due to gangrene, and ensuring his colleague carried on with the expedition despite gangrene in both his feet and having a severe head injury.

Interestingly, when asked by Phil afterwards “when faced with the most extreme challenges and levels of adversity what got you through it”, he said religion to a certain extent but moreover the vision of his father and grandfather watching him and that he didn’t want to let them down. He never met his grandfather and his father died very early in his life.

Sir Ranulph’s fascinating talk has inspired us, maybe not to climb Everest next week or to cross both poles in -120’c, but to apply his underlying resilience and determination to succeed. It’s these traits that we must all find within ourselves to use, not just for ourselves, but for the people around us that we lead.

By Christian Gilbert & Phil Blake