“There is no I in team but there is a me,” says the indefatigable Mark Inglis
Mark Inglis lost his legs due to frostbite at the age of 23 and went on to be the first and only double amputee to have stood on the roof of the world, the summit of Mount Everest. Mark has carved out careers as a scientist, a world recognised winemaker, business innovator, a Paralympic athlete, trekking guide, philanthropist and a leading International Motivator.
This combination of achievement in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds, his business acumen and the ability to interpret this to a wide range of people has resulted in regular opportunities to share his experience and philosophy with different people of the world. Mark has received several awards in his quest to give better than his best in everything he undertakes.A Doctor of Natural Resources, Mark has authored several books based on his experiences and insights, including ‘No Mean Feat’ and ‘Off the Front Foot.’
In an interview with Jyoti Singh Visvanath, Managing Editor of SHRM India, Mark shares his views on Leadership and Team Dynamics.
SHRM India: Mountaineering is a sport that requires the support of an excellent team. How do you build and engage your team?
Mark Inglis: A team in mountaineering ranges anywhere from two to 100 people, the principal element in each case is the same though, that is faith in your team members, which only comes from a close understanding of their strengths and weaknessesto ensure tasks are appropriate and there is communal sharing of the vision, the will and the goal. A team is engaged when all the team members are clear on what the task is, what the vision is and what the expected outcome is – sometimes that changes and that is when challenges in engagement arise.
SHRM India: Expeditions are constituted of a diverse group of people. How do you manage cross-cultural communications and diversity to ensure success?
Mark Inglis: The quick answer? Respect, understanding and most critically, an understanding of the self. Three core elements are necessary to build a teamthat ensures success- FOCUS, RESILIENCE and SYNERGY. FOCUS, as to do anything big takes effort over time.Companies, teams, expeditions are never built in a flash.The idea may come in a flash but the execution does not. RESILENCE, this is the ability to change, which isvery important for everyone in every situation. It is how we manage change, personally, professionally and culturally, that defines much of our potential for success and of course, SYNERGY, teams are about connection, about communication within the team, a combination of skill development and of trust, which needs to be earned at every level.
SHRM India: Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic has now become a lesson in corporate leadership. Please share any such lessons from your experiences in mountaineering, sport and science.
Mark Inglis: As we all know, much has been written about Shackleton and the lessons we can learn from his life.He is a personal hero of mine - for his strength, his weaknesses and his management of his weaknesses. It is safe to say that the key elements that Shackleton displayed are also, I believe, the key to business and mountaineering success. These are -an understanding of how to manage change, how to innovate and adapt to changing circumstances, to look at what others see as insurmountable and see just another challenge to be embraced.
Leadership on the mountain, like in the boardroom, hinges on how we live and breathe this.It is not enough just to talk but a strong need to buy in and live it. Possibly one of Shackleton’s weaknesses was his less than comprehensive planning prior to his expeditions, a weakness I share! His ability to focus on the greater goal and then adapt was what got him through. His ability to interpret the situation to his team, not just communicate but also explain and manage expectations was critical in keeping the team focused.Combined with his understanding of the power of humour,this kept spirits up in almost unimaginable situations.
SHRM India: Of your varied experiences, which would you highlight as being reflective of the current practice and future of Human Resources?
Mark Inglis: The most critical lesson I have learnt, interestingly through the interaction of winemaking and skiing of all things, is that the core of a great team, regardless of size, is collaboration. Counter-intuitively, this hinges on an INDIVIDUAL’S ability to stand outside of themselves, look back in - to see what others see, to understand and appreciate it, to understand where we can play to our strengths, and shore up our weaknesses. That lesson has liberated me in both my corporate and personal life but it is a skill that needs to be learned and the sooner we learn it,the better for us. I will be spending time in my presentation fleshing out this concept, as it is the foundation of not just team collaboration but the empowerment of individuals.
Likewise, too often we hear that there is no ‘I’ in team – but there is a ‘me’ and personal responsibility is all important within a team, especially on the mountain. How can we use that concept, one that can mean life or death on a mountain, in the workplace? It is, as this unconference is themed, about people first, about people within our groups ‘stepping up.’
SHRM India: To paraphrase Steve Jobs, the future belongs to those who function on the intersection between humanities and science. Having been a researcher yourself, what would be your response?
Mark Inglis: What attracted me away from pure research to a career as a winemaker, apart from a supply of great wine of course, were the elements that make up winemaking and their interaction. The biochemistry and microbiology of fermentation, the practical engineering and team work that is required to control a winemaking process and finally, the aesthetics of wine - the taste, the 'feel', the history, the 'terrier,' all three elements are essential to create a great wine.That is the intersection that Steve Jobs was talking about. Hence, it is also why so many lessons can be learned from great wine companies and winemakers. I am a very visual person and see winemaking as three overlapping circles, where great wines are created at the centre where all three overlap. Likewise, great mountaineers combine the love of the mountain environment, the physical skill as a climber and an in-depth knowledge of their environment to reach summits.It is always the mix of the technical and aesthetic that produces the greatest results.
SHRM India: You will be speaking at First, People 2012 in Goa. Please give us a teaser of what you will talk about.
Mark Inglis: First, People - People First! I have been privileged to experience leadership in so many different environments and have come to understand that to be the change maker, to be the leader; it takes the courage to embrace change. My aim is for the delegates to leave our 'unconference' with the spark, with the desire, with the confidence to be the change makers they need to be. Rather than using the term 'Human Resource,' I believe in growing the assets that are our teams, in the winery, in the boardroom, on the bike or on the mountain. I will take the concepts introduced here and flesh them out with real experience, with real successes and failures, real lessons to learn from – I am certainly still learning!
Jyoti Singh Visvanath is Managing Editor, SHRM India.