Everest explorer and columnist, Rebecca Stephens, a sought-after professional speaker, believes in the ability of every individual to achieve goals beyond their wildest dreams. The first British woman to climb Everest, she has conquered many other terrifying mountains since and survived some particularly gruelling expeditions. She is an inspiration to all and a captivating speaker.
Rebecca Stephens MBE speaks on the following topics:
Rebecca Stephens began her career in journalism but is best known for her accomplishments in a completely different field, that of mountaineering. On 17th May 1993, she became the first British woman to climb Everest and the following year went on to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents, the so-called Seven Summits – again the first British woman to accomplish this feat.
A combination of her mountaineering accomplishments and communication skills – in the spoken as well as written word – has led to her delivery of inspirational keynote addresses and master classes to business audiences around the world.
Drawing on her experiences in the extreme and at times hostile environment of the mountains, she shares insights into leadership, motivation, teamwork, decision-making, risk and communication skills that are as pertinent to the business executive as they are the climber. Her clients include companies from an array of sectors: Aerospace, Automobiles, Banks, Business Consultancy, Charity, Construction & Materials, Education, Financial, Health, Housing associations, Media, Mining, Oil & Gas, Pharmaceuticals & Biotech, Public Sector, Recruitment, Retail, Sport, Support Services, Technology, Telecommunications, Theatre, Trade Associations, and Travel & Leisure. She is a regular guest lecturer on leadership at Ashridge Management Centre and has shared a stage alongside President Bill Clinton.
In 2007, she established a company Seven Summits Performance Ltd with the sole purpose of delivering effective professional and leadership development.
Recent clients include BP, GlaxoSmithKline, Lloyds TSB, Deutsche Bank, Reed Expeditions and Oxfam. The work with BP involved the top 75 global executives examining rational and instinctive thinking in decision making, while the work with GlaxoSmithKline was the leadership element of its project management programme.
Still on the theme of leadership, Rebecca takes her master classes to the mountains where people are invited to learn experientially while climbing Kilimanjaro, either with an existing team or with leaders from different sectors to allow for an exchange of thinking and ideas. This leadership in the field has been shown to transform people’s professional lives. She also leads treks to the Himalayas.
Rebecca has written several books: The Seven Summits of Success, a leadership book co-authored with business writer Robert Heller, published by Capstone; On Top of the World, an account of her climbing Everest, published by MacMillan; Everest Eyewitness Guide, published by Dorling Kindersley; and Due South, a pole to pole helicopter odyssey, published by Wigwam. She continues to writes articles for the nationals, including her old employer The Financial Times as well as The Independent, Telegraph and Mail on Sunday. In 2003 she was a judge for the Man Booker prize for contemporary literature.
She is a trustee for The Himalayan Trust and for the Kathmandu Art Centre, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and member of the Alpine Club. Rebecca graduated with honours from London University in 1983.
“You received the highest marks ever – 8 x 10 and 2 x 9 (and one delegate never gives 10 on priinciple!) Congratulations, this is a brilliant and true reflection of your ability to share your extraordinary story in such a business-focused way.” The Academy of Chief Executives
“Really inspirational…you are the 'talk of Coutts', from the Chairman down, and you ensured that our corporate messages came alive on a personal level.” C outts
“Rebecca made us feel that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to…” Automobile Association
“I must totally revaluate my life…” BP Amoco
“The feedback on your presentation has been overwhelming! Delegates responded well to the key messages and have made a clear link to improving their own performance” BP Amoco
Who or what was your motivation to achieve?
If I were to talk about Everest, the motivation to climb it came from within. I went to Everest as a journalist to write about other people climbing Everest. I climbed to the first camp myself (to see what it was all about), and got hooked. Aged 27, I found what was right for me, my chosen path. Of course there were obstacles along the way – I had to give up the security of a job, for a start – but it’s a wonderful feeling when your actions are aligned with what you truly want to do, and there was very little that could deflect me from my path. The conviction I felt – and the importance of being true to your self – was really the most vital lesson I took away from Everest. This, together with the importance of the team; I couldn’t have done it without the Sherpas.
Why is it important for businesses and organisations to motivate staff in recession?
It is always important to motivate staff, but even more so in a recession. The fact is we have very little control over the economic environment in which we work, but we have considerable control over our own actions and the support, commitment and opportunities for training and development we offer our staff. A sense of purpose is important, more so than any bonus. It’s the responsibility of leaders to communicate a clear vision to their staff, to remind them of their value and importance. And of course the atmosphere at work is important, again a job for leaders, to always adhere to the three graces of teamwork: respect, trust and honesty. Good old-fashioned values that work.
What was the turning point of your sporting life?
My first trip to Everest when I discovered for the first time in my life what I truly wanted to do.
What was the turning point of your personal life?
The birth of my first child.
Were there times you thought you would not succeed?
Yes, many times. In the mountains, we have no control over the weather, and on Everest, McKinley and Aconcagua, the weather was diabolical. But we were lucky; in each case the weather cleared just long enough for us to scramble to the top and back down again. Interestingly, I always felt confident that we would succeed if the weather allowed us. I would like to be in a position to say this was true for every undertaking in my life, but sadly this isn’t the case. Sometimes the conviction simply hasn’t been there.
What are you hoping to achieve in the future
This I am very clear about. I want to work as long as my body will allow, sharing lessons learned from the mountains and how they can shape and influence our thinking and behaviour. Expeditions in the mountains are so like businesses, more so today than ever. The environment in the mountains, as in the workplace, is tough, volatile and unforgiving; the challenge is great. We have a clear vision and plan, but must flex in order to deliver. We’re working in teams, often multi-cultural. The parallels with leadership and teamwork in the mountains and in the workplace are all too obvious, but so too planning, execution, communication, risk and decision-making.
The mountains allow us to connect with the earth as well, something that at a personal level I value highly. Once a year I allow myself the luxury of leading a trek, usually in the Himalaya – it keeps me grounded. But it can be transformational as well. There is something about the simplicity of walking 8, 9, 10 hours a day, in a vast and beautiful landscape away from the daily clutter of our lives, that allows the mind to order itself and throw into focus what is important. We leave home for a holiday but in the process come to realise what important steps need to be taken on our return.
There is no question in my mind how transformational these experiences can be in people’s lives, and recently I’ve had opportunity to combine such mountain experiences with the leadership development and coaching work that I have been doing for years. Last September I climbed Kilimanjaro with an international group of MBA students. The leadership learning from the climb was recognised as a formal part of their MBA course, and was unquestionably a life-changing experience for participants. This year we are repeating and further developing the course; and moving forward, I want to share the power of this experiential learning with others, using it as a tool to develop our thinking and behaviour around leadership, and also sustainability and innovation.
And of course I want to be a loving mother of two increasingly independent girls; I have another book to write, and I want to paint.
Can you delegate?
Love to delegate! Everything possible except writing and story telling in the classroom (whether office or mountain tent!), which is essentially what I do.
What makes a good manager or leader
Somebody who is authentic in who they are and what they want to achieve and understands the wonders and complexities of people in order to be able to build and work with an effective and focused team.
Why do you think it is important to book an external speaker
When we stop learning, we stop growing and should hang up our boots and retire. Increasingly we need to be thinking about doing things differently in order to compete, and in some cases survive. This doesn’t happen sitting in the office, doing things the way we have always done them before. Either we go out and explore; or else we invite people in from the outside, to cross-fertilize, innovate and transform.
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