The more successful you are in your journey towards leadership, the more difficult it is to change. It is human nature to keep going with what we think makes us successful, but change is actually crucial for future success.
David Lim, leader of the 1st Singapore Mount Everest Expedition who made a comeback from total paralysis to return to the great peaks, recounted his story of overcoming the mountains – not just in the minds of the public and the skeptics, but also among leaders and their teams.
During his keynote address at IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP)
Program in Singapore, Lim enthralled the audience – which included IMD alumni in the country - by relating his climbing expeditions to leadership success and winning performances.
He also discussed how to never let past success go to your head or determine your future success and outlined his 3 principles:
1. Know why you do what you do
Are you curious about what you are trying to achieve? What gets you going in the morning?
One does not have to be conquering the peaks of mountains, in order to relate to similar situations when managing a team in the corporate world: Having to inspire a fractious group coming from diverse backgrounds, each carrying with them heavy baggage, and leading them to succeed in a mammoth task never encountered before.
It is thus crucial that leaders must first learn to lead themselves. Everybody likes what Lim termed a ‘cocktail-party-bragging-rights’ snap shot at the summit, but how many can compare themselves to Ueli Stack (famous for his speed records on the North Face trilogy in the Alps)? Stack recognized that, though a successful mountaineer, he had to change his ways to become a successful athlete and scale even greater heights. He had a stretch goal to further improve himself.
How would you make a similar change for success?
2. Have a stretch goal
A tip from Lim: Break difficult tasks into bits – every tiny step becomes an achievement. Everest was conquered in stages, and likewise, it remains an ongoing task for leaders to manage resources and mental strength for the long haul. Self-leadership – where the mission and roles are clear – is important when leaders cannot afford to handhold their group members.
“Teamwork is an individual skill that makes people accountable, and team players give up their own chances to climb to the summit so that the best climber can get to the top,” said Lim. Leaders have to sustain the momentum of the team-building process, even when faced with harsh gales of change, akin to those encountered on a climbing expedition.
When dealing with setbacks in running their organizations, leaders should remember Lim’s story of overcoming the odds. A week after his triumphant return from Everest, a rare nerve disorder left him paralyzed completely from the eyes down. He spent six months in hospital, learning to walk and write his name, and to this day remains permanently disabled. This has not stopped him from conquering even more mountains.
Lim shared, “Feeling sorry for yourself and being sorry about the past does not help. Look into the future – the journey of success and change is normally painful. Mountains are not climbed if they remain sitting inside of you.”
3. Create resilience
Leaders in organizations have to face challenges of varying magnitudes, but they can deal with them more adequately by embracing change with a forward-looking approach, learning from past experiences (and building character when reflecting upon them), as well as having a resilient mind.
Lim also provided a few pointers that serve as timely reminders in any organizational setting – surround yourself with a great team, communicate shared objectives, maintain a good sense of humor, and live life to the fullest by creating as many intense moments as possible.
His parting shot: “Successful people aren’t those who have everything, but those who use everything they already have.”
IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) program runs every November in Singapore. For live insights from the program follow on Twitter at or check out OWP pictures on IMD's flickr account.