What business leaders can learn from a wilderness explorer

Deloitte Digital: Travels to the Arctic Circle

National Geographic's Ronan Donovan | Deloitte Digital

Traveling to the Arctic Circle to study and photograph wild wolves for three months requires a leap of faith. Abandoning your work halfway through to restart from scratch requires deep trust in yourself to adapt once again. Ronan Donavan embraces the unknown by overcoming both physical and logistical challenges to capture something extraordinary: the untold stories and lives of wolves in the wild. Watch as Ronan forges connections in the most unlikely of places—the remote arctic tundra.  

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Okay, so most business leaders haven’t spent three months living in the Arctic Circle going on hunts with packs of wolves. But while the lives of world-renowned National Geographic Explorers and those in the C-suite may look different on the surface, you only have to dig a little deeper to discover the similarities in their mindsets.

Deloitte Digital teamed up with National Geographic Explorer, Ronan Donovan, to follow his Arctic journey where he tracked, embedded with, and documented wild wolf packs. Along the way, the unexpected happened. And then happened again. And again. All the while, we noticed that Ronan embraced the same qualities that we see in successful business leaders today. Take a look at his remarkable video above.

True explorers know that they can’t predict the future

How you pack for three months of living in the remote Arctic tundra is a little out of our element, but we did hear Ronan say something about five tons (yes, tons, as in 2,000 pounds) of gear and essentials. While that sounds like a lot, he still wasn’t able to anticipate and plan for everything that was about to happen to him. He knew that no matter what unfolded during his trip, he would need to be able to adapt to the elements and circumstances that uncovered themselves—including malfunctioning camera traps, shy wolves (aw!), and two physical injuries he encountered along the way.

So, they learn to embrace the unknown

Ronan’s plan was to find a pack of wolves, embed with them, and spend his trip documenting their lives. Sounds easy enough, right? (Well, maybe not quite.) Early in his trip, he found a pack of wolves and began documenting them and their behaviour. But six weeks into the adventure, he realised his presence was having a negative effect on their behaviour. So he made the tough—and risky—decision to leave this pack halfway through his trip in search of another one.
Having no idea if he would find another pack to embed with—there are over 1,000 square miles of tundra land there and about zero tracking collars on any of the animals—Ronan set off once again in search of something he might never find. With this huge shift in plans, he leaned into unpredictability and embraced the unknown in hopes of finding success.

And ultimately adapt

By adapting to these new circumstances, Ronan got a better payoff than expected. He ultimately found a new pack of wolves which was even larger than the first. And larger packs mean more complex behaviours and relationships to document—you know, wolf stuff.

Over his journey, the goal of documenting wolves never changed. What did change was his mindset.

Transformational leadership

We’re living in a time marked by ever-changing technology and fast-moving business disruptors that make it difficult to know what the future of business will look like, how industries will change, and what will be needed from our C-suite leaders. Add into that the global pandemic, economic turbulence, and the overdue reckoning with systemic racism we are now encountering and even the most clairvoyant’s crystal balls are left shattered.

While the specifics of the future cannot be predicted, one thing we do know—and tell our clients—is that we must always be ready to adapt to changing markets and customers and technologies. And to us, that looks like smart leaders building agile organisations that are able to quickly pivot as the world changes.

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