Our World Class Leadership Summit gave Academy members the opportunity to hear from all of our inspirational speakers, such as former SAS Major Floyd Woodrow and former Red Arrow pilot Justin Hughes. Polar Explorer Ann Daniels discusses the difficult challenges her team came to face-to-face with, at the North Pole and how positivity was vital for leading the team to success.
When we left in 2002 we left Ellesmere Island to the North Pole and temperatures for the first twenty seven days were between minus 46 and minus 58 Celsius on the thermometer. We have no idea what it was with wind chill factor because our anemometer broke, froze, we couldn’t, nothing worked. It was living on the edge of existence and in the middle of that beautiful blue ocean lies horror upon horror. The ice is mangled. The temperatures are cold. Everything moves, it’s a moving environment. So as we moved northwards that was our north star. Every day we’d go to bed at night and wake up and we’d drifted back southwards as we slept. Nothing was the same.
We expected it all to freeze. We expected our equipment to freeze. What we didn’t expect was our brains to go into a slow melt down. We were so cold we literally couldn’t function. We’d pick one bag up and stagger to the sledge and drop it. And when you’re in those situations as a leader you can be as strong as you like but it’s not necessarily about the physical. We were all at the edges of our existence and of what we could do. So all I could really do was to be strong, to be positive, because that kept the team strong and positive. If I had hunkered down and we’re not going to make this happen then sure enough that is exactly what would have been the team’s ethos, the team’s feeling. And whilst I won’t say we were happy we were going forward and forward. And also it’s important to care for each other so we checked each other’s faces. We froze constantly. I can remember a moment when I was at the front of the group, I led from the front for the first five days because I had more frontal experience, and I went blind. I’m at the front of this group and they’re behind me and I thought, I’ve never heard of the cold making you blind, I can’t see anything! My hands are frozen and as my brain caught up I suddenly realised that actually the ice had grown so hard and so heavy on my eyelashes I literally had to close my eyes. Who needs eyelashes in those temperatures?
If it’s difficult outside – we’re pulling sledges, sledges with 250 pound – it’s still really cold inside. We would put our tent up and crawl in, less than a millimetre thick yet as soon as we got in we felt safe. We cooked on two small cookers and we had two pans – one for water and one for which we cooked our food in. We melted snow and then all we had – because we had to pull everything – all we had was a mug, a pencil, a diary and a spoon. We didn’t wash or change our clothes for 80 days because if we’d have kept adding to the sled it would have been too heavy to pull apart.