On 15 May 2006, after 40 days of climbing, Auckland-based mountaineer Mark Inglis, now 52, became the first double amputee to reach the summit of Mount Everest. A quarter-century earlier, during an expedition to Mount Cook in New Zealand in 1982, Inglis had lost both his legs, knees down, to frostbite after being stuck in a blizzard for 13 days.

There have been many smaller attempts at climbing in between. Inglis began early, at the age of 17, as a search and rescue mountaineer for Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand. He also spent several years working as a winemaker at Montana Wines, New Zealand. He has written four books, including No Mean Feat, which documents his entrapment and rescue from Mount Cook. He is now a motivational speaker and works for his New Zealand-based charitable trust Limbs4All.

Peak achiever: Mark Inglis says being a mountaineer at a very young age made him very proactive. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

What will you be talking about in Goa?

I think the whole concept of mountaineering is a metaphor for business and life. I will discuss what we can learn about leadership from things like mountaineering, cycling or the sports. I have personally been able to take as much from business into mountaineering as I have from mountaineering into business. For instance, a big expedition is very much about infrastructure. On the other hand, in the mountains, personal responsibilities are critical. You can’t hide from them. Business could learn that from mountaineering.

And teamwork is important in both.

Yes but I would still say that one of the most critical elements of teamwork also is personal responsibility. They used to say there is no “I" in team, but there is a “me". People forget that no team will work without a sense of personal responsibility. As a team that’s on an expedition, teamwork means understanding people’s strengths and weaknesses and ensuring that they are doing the right thing, so you don’t endanger anyone. As a manager also, you make sure that people are trained right, and utilizing their expertise in the right away.

You decided to climb the Everest post your accident. Do you think people perform better under pressure?

We all perform better when there’s a challenge. But you need to recognize it and understand it. One of the things I speak about a lot is how do we put challenge back into the thinking of our youth. Because the more they push themselves, the more they’ll achieve. You must embrace challenge, which is actually change.

From your several trips to India, what would you say about the youth here?

From all the places I visit, the people I meet in India are the most aspirational. But I also realize that it’s very tough getting into and getting through university over here. There is too much pressure.

In interacting with people across countries and cultures, what is the one common obstacle that surfaces most often?

The most common problem, and I’ve been struck with it myself, is the inability to stand outside of yourself and see yourself as everyone else does. It’s a real skill. It’s a true understanding of yourself, your strengths and competencies. And more importantly, it will determine how you interact with other people and how other people see you. Because if you cannot understand that, you’ll never understand people’s confidence or their criticism of you.

I walk around the world in these three-quarter pants. Everyone can see me. I walk on the streets here in Delhi or Mumbai and if there are kids around I feel like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I have this comet tail. You know, I cause accidents on the streets! (laughs). What I had to understand was that the first thing people see is a double amputee. I get up in the morning and I put my legs on, the same as you put your shoes on, so I had forgotten that I was a double amputee. I used to ski for a living before I lost my legs. When I returned I tried skiing again and I managed. Everyone was telling me how well I was skiing, and I believed them. Then one day I saw a video of myself skiing, and it was terrible! That day I realized that if I’m going to get advice, I have to make sure people don’t know that I’m a double amputee. Once I learnt that lesson, I saw what I was doing wrong, and I ski much better now.

Criticism is very important then.

Criticism is critical. It is at the core of growth, as long as it’s done in a constructive way. New Zealanders don’t do criticism very well. But I think Indians do. You are tough people! (laughs).

Are you planning to climb any more mountains?

No more big mountaineering. I’ve lost too many limbs. I lost my fingertips on the Everest. I guess I’m a slow learner, but I do learn. And my wife would not be too pleased. I’m having a fantastic time sharing my life’s experiences with people and working for Limbs4all keeps me busy. We are a small charity but we’re happy if we can help even one person. Giving a person a wheelchair or a leg helps them, but even more important is giving them an attitude to use them.

komal.sharma@livemint.com

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