Adventurers are fast learners; when being slow on the uptake can cost you your life, you tend to pay close attention. Businessman-turned-adventurer Adrian Hayes has reached the summits of Everest and K2, gone on expeditions to both Poles, and kite-skiied across Greenland – he’s had plenty of learning opportunities.
So what have the worlds of snow-capped peaks and barren tundra taught Hayes about life and leadership? What’s the key to running a successful team, and how can we apply the lessons he’s learned along the way?
RSNG Did your business life benefit from your expedition experience?
ADRIAN HAYES, ADVENTURE ENTREPRENEUR ‘This is a very easy one for motivational speakers to answer; they usually say the lessons they learned from climbing this mountain, or doing this big adventure, can help corporates in their own line of work – and there is an element of truth to that. However, more important to me are the lessons I learned in the world of personal development, team development, leadership development, and coaching development. It’s the mantras, the models, the tools, the techniques, the lessons and the learnings that I put in place to make my biggest achievements in adventure – and the same tools and techniques are useful in the corporate world.’
RSNG What does leadership mean to you?
AH ‘We tend to look at leaders as assertive, charismatic people who can inspire us. But to me leadership is not just about the figureheads; I think leadership can take place on every single level. There's a great story about this child in a school in Ontario. He was the school nerd and nobody took any notice of him, until one day a girl in the class was choking on a piece of her food; the teacher screamed and froze, all the ‘king jocks’ – the assertive guys in this classroom – froze, and no one knew what to do. Then this nerd stepped up and gave the girl the Heimlich remover to save her life – that, to me, is leadership.’
‘Honesty breeds trust – you have to put your cards on the table, and have absolute transparency’
RSNG Is strong leadership essential to the success of an expedition?
AH ‘I would say teamwork, more than leadership, is essential to the success of an expedition. I’ve led some great expeditions over the years, but I’ve also been on expeditions where there’s been a complete breakdown, and one of the major reasons for that is ineffective team agreements.’
‘You have to get your agreements in place right at the very start, because you can't talk about issues unless you've got the agreements in place on how you're going to talk about them – you have to put your cards on the table, and have absolute transparency. Honesty breeds trust. If you don't have that trust and understanding in the corporate world, you might lose some sales and profits, but if you get it wrong on an expedition you can lose your life.’
‘In business we are losing touch with how to think deeply and critically – how to solve problems and think strategically’
RSNG What other life lessons has adventure taught you?
AH ‘People ask me what it's like to come back to the real world after these adventures. When you’re on an expedition you’re constantly communicating with each other, evaluating and setting yourself challenges in the extremes of nature, which is far more ‘real life’ than the communication-overloaded world we live in now.’
‘Our brains cannot handle the amount of information currently available to us and we’re losing touch with how to think deeply and critically – how to solve problems, think strategically and overcome. When you go into nature you come back on a different wavelength, so I would encourage everyone to leave their damn smartphones at home, even if it's just for a few hours, in favour of savouring the natural world and talking to people.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch the trailer for the account of Adrian Hayes climb up K2, the world’s deadliest mountain.