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Extreme leadership & the everyday

What does leadership on an arduous arctic expedition have to do with the everyday? Informed Solutions Summer Conference found common ground with a polar explorer.


10 miles forward, 2 miles back. Does that feel familiar? In minus 60 degrees and surrounded by snow and ice. Seeing through your mission in those conditions and over a period of 70 days takes extraordinary leadership. But that has little to do with the everyday experience of staff in an IT consultancy, correct? Until you meet ex-Marine turned expedition-leader, Alan Chambers, as Informed Solutions staff were privileged to do at their recent Summer Conference.

Leadership, it emerged, is certainly about expertise, planning, rehearsal (5 years in the case of Alan’s landmark expedition across the Arctic) but it is also about having the ambition to do something others would file in the “too difficult” drawer.  In Alan’s case, the previously unthinkable was skiing across the Arctic to reach the Geographic North Pole, traversing from the east  (no-one had ever done that before), unsupported (no huskies, no food drops).

Central to leadership is gathering the right team around you.  Alan was very clear: team members with the right attitude.  Alan’s potential recruits included for example, a candidate with an exceptional track-record in winter conditions and a super-fit, highly skilled skier with years of experience operating above the tree-line.  But they were not selected for the team.  Their place was taken by someone who had never even stood on skis. “And when you’re going to be skiing many hours a day for 60-70 days, being able to ski is a prerequisite.” Alan outlined.

The key difference between the candidates was attitude and Alan’s guiding principle that “you can learn skills, but you have to have the right attitude from the outset”. The candidate with no skiing experience just learnt to ski during the extensive preparations for the expedition. QED.

The point was not lost on Informed Solutions staff who frequently hear the same message from Group CEO Elizabeth Vega.  A key element of the selection process at Informed is exploring the individual’s make-up and attitude.

“When you’re going to be spending numerous hours a day working with a person, if you’re well prepared then things should go well but at other times, when a project or client throws us a curved ball, they won’t. You want to be sure your colleagues have the right attitude and are able to react in a positive way, because we need to overcome challenges quickly, effectively and respectfully.”

Expertise, detailed planning, risk assessment, rehearsal, reviews, having challenging conversations – those elements of leadership were all in the mix as Alan set out how his epic journey across the Arctic was conceived, prepared and executed.   Paramount in being selected for the team and then getting the team to accomplish its objective, was having a team with the right attitude.  Those principles were shown to apply to successfully and safely crossing the Arctic ice-cap, we learned, as much as they do to delivering IT innovation projects for high-profile clients.

If you’re interested in joining the Informed Solutions team, click here:

If you’d like to find out more about Alan Chambers, go to:

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