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Singapore's very own "Everest Guy": Lessons on resilience and leadership

Having led Singapore's first expedition to Mount Everest, David Lim is a legend in the field of resilience and leadership. In this first interview of the Career Intelligence Accelerator series, check out timeless, universal lessons from from Dr Tanvi Gautam's conversation with "The Everest Guy."

Nearly 30 years ago, David Lim read a book called The Shining Mountain, written by two British climbers, prompting him to try mountaineering for the first time.

Since then, he's had  a life of adventure, challenge and courage, having led Singapore's landmark first Everest expedition in 1998, as well as the second in 2001. However, in the face of partial disability from a devastating rare nerve disorder since 1998, his comeback story of overcoming the odds is yet another highlight in a successful career.

Here are some key takeaways of the conversation between him and Dr Tanvi Gautam, the host of the Career Intelligence Accelerator.

Lessons on leadership and managing people

As Dr Gautam says: "One person stepping into their greatness inspires 1,000 other people to step into theirs," which prompts Lim to share the lessons he has learnt in this inspiring journey.

Through expeditions comprising friends to total strangers, Lim picked up the art of building winning teams across situations. As such, he says: "One of the key things which are highly underrated  in leading others is number one, managing expectations. And number two, clarity of understanding of the triggers for each of the decisions you make."

When it comes to the first, i.e. managing expectations, Lim has always been honest with his team members - climbing Everest is an adventure not for the faint-hearted, there are likely to be dangers and hard times during the adventures, not to mention bad weather.

"You may hear some complaints. But you won't get anywhere as many complaints as if you hadn't said that. So in any change process, including many of my clients in the workplace that are going through disruption, the ability to manage expectations is a hugely-underrated skill in the modern workplace."

Turning the change process around on its head, Dr Gautam raises the question of 'leading the self', i.e. advice for those who find themselves on the receiving end of change, rather than leading it. To this, Lim says: "You may not be able to coach your boss, but you can coach yourself."

In any change process, the ability to manage expectations is a hugely-underrated skill in the modern workplace.

Lessons on resilience

About a week after returning from the Everest expedition, while Lim and the team continued to be hailed as national heroes, there was trouble brewing on the health front. Lim contracted the rare nerve disorder called Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS), in which the body's immune system attacks its nerves, as a result leaving patients paralysed to various degrees of severity.

In Lim's case, it was very severe as within three days, he could only move his left eyelid. What's more, associated breathing difficulties sent him to intensive care for 43 days. Altogether, he spent six months in hospital and finally left with partially disabled legs and his left hand.

Having to go from a literal and a metaphorical high, as Dr Gautam describes, to this nerve-wracking period in the hospital tested Lim's courage and resilience on various fronts, but the harder part was still to come - living with paralysis.

"My entire universe began to revolve around the things I could still do - my hand that works, my two legs that work - and as I began to recover, I began to expand the universe. "If you focus on what you can control within your little universe, even if that's just moving one finger, you can at least say you've tried."

However, in reality, some people start giving up already, even before they reach those limits. Lim explains: "They get into this space of learned helplessness."

"Depending on which school of resilience you come from, resilience can be gained, for example, in terms of how you interpret success and setbacks in your life," says Lim.

Failure is always an option. In fact, it is a very big option. What people mean to say is that fear is not an option, which is a completely separate conversation.

Failure is an option

In the corporate world, a number of people tend to believe in 'failure is not an option', Dr Gautam points out. Disagreeing with the school of thought, she says: "Failure is always an option. In fact, it is a very big option. What people mean to say is that fear is not an option, which is a completely separate conversation."

Lim quips: "If you show me anybody who has an unbroken stretch of success in life, I'll say that's somebody who hasn't tried hard enough. If you could try hard enough at something, you're bound to face some degree of failure. And the important thing is to learn from that to become better, stronger, faster, smarter, or more successful the next time."

Set yourself off to a flying start, with the upcoming Career Intelligence Accelerator bringing together 15 global speakers, including a New York Times bestselling author, former White House leader, CEOs & CHROs, social media influencers and many more.

Organised by bestselling author and multi-award winning executive coach, Dr Tanvi Gautam (pictured above), and Human Resources Online as the knowledge partner, the fully-virtual, complimentary event will be held from 20-27 January 2020 at this link

For more information, or to sign up, please visit

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