Lessons in Leadership: Insight From the South Pole

Posted 03/08/2018 by Chris Powell

It’s been six weeks since I returned from the South Pole after completing the South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC) with Robert Swan and the Last Degree team. Re-entry has been meteoric, at best – and getting back in the game has been as much of a challenge as trekking across Antarctica’s tundra (which should explain my radio silence on my blogs). But, despite time and distance, the South Pole stays on my mind, and I think it will for the rest of my life.

At first glance, the combination of Commvault and Swan’s 2041 organization isn’t an obvious one. But like all the best relationships, both sides have complementary skill sets and attributes that fit together to achieve an effective partnership. Commvault first met Robert through our customer, General Electric, and to see if he would be a good fit as a speaker at Commvault GO (he was, by the way).

The more we spoke to Robert, the more we realized how all great causes – be it corporate or philanthropic – rely on data. When we assessed 2041’s data infrastructure and protection capabilities (which were basic, at best), we realized 2041 needed us to help it connect and share its data with the people who could, in turn, act differently in ways to preserve the natural resources of the world. 

With our participation secured, it was time for me to carry Commvault’s flag to the South Pole by joining a team of strangers to walk the final 60 miles with Robert to complete the SPEC. I was uncertain what this once-in-a-lifetime experience would teach me and how it would impact the way I work. Turns out, I gained a great deal of insight – not only on how to change my management style, but how our customers use data and value resources.

  • Leadership Matters: To state the obvious - it’s dangerous on the ice. Our team was dependent on each other for survival. Our guides were critical. With no leadership, there is no direction. And leadership comes not just from the top – it comes from everywhere. Each person shows leadership through personal responsibility and accountability. Sometimes that leadership comes from unexpected places. In our industry, it can be the person in the data center who ensures the business can recover when things go sideways.
  • Smart Resourcing: It is impossible not to be acutely aware of resource management when out on an expedition. Water, food, sleep, solar power – all of these resources had to be constantly monitored so we knew we had the right supplies and capabilities to put one ski in front of the other for another day. CIOs think this way, too. They know the importance of managing resources: people, financial, even time. From energy needs to hardware purchases – CIOs are on an endless mission to make sure operations are moving efficiently. 
  • The team is everything (leave your ego at the door): There is a collective, group dynamic needed to successfully complete an expedition like the SPEC. When I first joined the team, I was a bit concerned whether this dynamic would happen for us. You’re dealing with some strong individuals. Like so many things in life, in an effort like ours, the individual cannot secure the team’s success. A collective, group dynamic has to synch properly so everyone reaches the final goal. Fortunately, our team was excellent from the start. There were no prima donnas; our rallying cry was to help each other, and be mindful of people who were injured or were ill.  We took care of people who were having a tough day, and most important, we put our personal agendas aside for the greater good of the team.  We each committed to our own responsibility for ourselves.  When you are part of team, you have to make sure you are completely prepared so you don’t negatively impact the team.  When the team needs to move in order to make sure it skis the required miles for one day, you better be ready to go – no one is going to wait for you.

I’m sure the lessons I learned on the ice will continue to evolve in my daily work life. For now, I will be cognizant of finding the right guide for the right project, to manage resources, to promote a collective, group dynamic, put my personal agenda aside, and finally, be prepared so I don’t hold my team back.

My business insight from my adventure is that while the importance of data is without question, the protection of data is imperative. I’m proud Commvault will continue to provide ongoing support to the 2041 organization for years to come for its day-to-day operations.

That also includes data storage and protection of the critical data 2041 will use to pursue its mission of protecting Antarctica and driving its message of renewable, sustainable energy adoption to combat climate change.

I think the unlikely, yet remarkable, partnership between Commvault and 2041 shows the power of doing things differently to make sure we stay on the right side of history.

As a member of Commvault’s executive leadership team, Chris Powell brings more than two decades of business acumen and management experience to Commvault as Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer.