The inspirational leadership of Sir Edmund Hillary

The inspirational leadership of Sir Edmund Hillary

December 13:  Last week, I came across an article in the Business Education supplement of the Financial Times.  It was written by Frank Brown, dean of INSEAD, on the inspirational leadership of Sir Edmund Hillary, the legendary mountaineer and humanitarian who conquered Everest in 1953.

You can find the article here.

I was attracted to this article since I have great admiration for Sir Edmund Hillary, and because I have long seen ventures in the mountains as providing interesting lessons about leadership.  Brown’s article is instructive in the way it draws the parallels between mountain expeditions and business leadership.

Beyond my interest in mountaineering and leadership, though, there is a nice quote from Hillary, words that I have seen before in other writings about him, but which I had not thought of in recent times: “You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things; to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated.”

I was happy to be reminded of these words, and I believe they are quite timely and appropriate to our recent discussions on this blog.  Hillary’s quote is certainly related to Leonard’s notion that mastery of anything is (above all else) the result of deliberate practice.

If exceptional leaders are made rather than born, and if they can hone their leadership skills through deliberate practice, is it not the motivation to excel and to achieve the extraordinary that distinguishes them from others?

Hillary was a great proponent of the concept that ordinary people can decide to accomplish extraordinary things.  And they can often succeed, not because of extraordinary skill but rather because of extraordinary motivation.

As we continue to discuss the meaning of leadership, and the taking charge of our own leadership training and development, we should always keep in mind that leadership is not for heroes.  To repeat the words of Hillary, it is for ordinary chaps, ‘sufficiently motivated’.


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