Navigating leadership in 2024: Insights from Antarctica. By Fiona Logan 

I recently embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the icy landscapes of Antarctica as part of the Homeward Bound Ushuaia Voyage 2023.

Alongside 86 female changemakers, we set sail to not only explore the remote beauty of Antarctica but to take space from our daily routines, face into the intractable political, economic, social and environmental issues facing organizations today, and foster our personal and professional growth. This expedition provided a unique opportunity to bear witness to the impacts of climate change, sharing the journey with scientific experts – an experience that has left an indelible mark on my perspective.

While the journey itself may be behind me, I know that I will feel its effects for many years to come. Whilst I was on the expedition, with its the leadership development sessions, inspiring backdrop of the remote Antarctica wilderness and the headspace to reflect, I ruminated on a few concepts, which I hope may be of value as we navigate the choppy waters of the global disruption business leaders today are dealing with.

Energy: Take a leap to rediscover your leadership energy
Leadership fatigue can creep into our lives without warning. In the relentless pursuit of success, we occasionally forget to recharge our own batteries. At least I do! After several years at an organization, it is easy to become complacent and comfortable. At Insights, we continue to embrace learning and are highly creative, pushing our boundaries to be ever-more innovative in delivering strategic change, but I asked myself, how could I use this experience to reinvigorate my personal energy to continue to be the leader my teams need me to be.

My Antarctic expedition reinforced the vital importance of taking space to think, to contemplate and to deliberate, not just privately but also publicly. As a leader, disconnecting from the routine, turning off emails and phones, and immersing yourself in something entirely different can be transformative. In my case, this leap of faith not only reenergized me but also led to an unexpected perspective shift.

Importantly, the Antarctic voyage prompted a renewed connection with the company I lead. The distance gave me the gift of appreciation but also allowed me to see some critical issues from a fresh perspective, with some breakthrough thinking emerging.

Trust your team to thrive in your absence
Successful leadership is not about micro-managing every detail but empowering a team to thrive. Scary though it may be, stepping away from the desk should not cause chaos. The ability to delegate, trust others to manage day-to-day operations, and provide a guiding vision for the future are hallmarks of effective leadership and your teams will thank you.

If your absence disrupts the workflow, it is a sign that your leadership strategy may need recalibration. Building a team capable of navigating strategic and operational challenges in your absence is an investment in the success and growth of your company.

Embrace discomfort for personal growth
Despite the adventurous spirit most of us have in our pastimes and hobbies (I am a wild swimmer for example), the anticipation of voyaging to Antarctica was still a blend of excitement and trepidation. The unknowns and challenges mirrored the unpredictable terrains of the business world. Stepping onto a small ship, with 85 strangers, bound for the icy continent, was a moment of personal growth that taught me the importance of embracing discomfort.

While the average leader may not find themselves in the eye of a 150-mile-an-hour Antarctic winds, or with a 35-foot humpback whale playing right beneath our 15-foot Zodiac, the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) business landscape is characterized by ups and downs. Every day demands the ability to navigate a range of engagements, decisions and data, often dealing with the unfamiliar. The Antarctic experience emphasized the need to be able to thrive in ambiguity and get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Adaptability: Learn to roll with the punches
Every day in Antarctica came with a schedule, meticulously planned landings and set mealtimes. However, the Antarctic environment is unpredictable, with conditions changing rapidly. Plans were subject to the whims of the Antarctic weather, much like the unpredictable nature of the workplace.

Leaders benefit from being agile, constantly learning, adapting and responding to new information and then have a thirst to change course when external factors come into play. A learning or growth mindset and the ability to roll with the punches, whether it’s unexpected calls, urgent meetings, or unforeseen challenges, is a vital leadership trait. Antarctica reinforced the idea that leaders should be ready to recalibrate their strategies based on the ever-changing nature of external events.

See time as a precious leadership gift
Amidst the majestic icebergs and curious penguins, the concept of time transformed into a rare treasure. On the ship, without internet or the constant stream of notifications, we had the precious gift of time – a commodity often scarce in the bustling world of leadership. The Antarctic journey provided the space for me to shape questions about our company purpose, vision and strategy.

Leaders are often caught in the constant barrage of demands, leaving little room for reflection or to work on their own development or self-awareness. Antarctica emphasized the importance of carving out dedicated time for introspection. Leaders must fiercely protect their time to think. Taking space to consciously think about how to navigate the challenges ahead and moreover think about how to foster a culture that values reflection and critical thinking.

The icy landscapes of Antarctica provided not only a majestic backdrop but also a profound canvas for leadership reflection. As leaders, as we embark on a journey in 2024, we must be willing to explore the unknown, trust our teams, embrace discomfort, adapt to change, and guard our time fiercely to navigate the uncharted territories of leadership.

Fiona Logan is CEO of Insights. Insights Learning & Development is a global organization working with some of the world’s biggest companies, helping their people to increase self-awareness, improve relationships, and solve real and pressing business issues. Through the framework of a common language of color, Insights helps people understand themselves and others, communicate with impact and become more effective teams by putting people right at the heart of everything they do. Insights’ purpose is to create a world where people truly understand themselves and others and are inspired to make a positive difference in everything they do.