Pushing the Boundaries By Ajeet Bajaj

By Archana Jerath October 31, 2017
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The ability to meet and respond to changes and unpredictability without giving up is a key attribute of future employees, according to a survey by Right Management of HR decision makers and line managers. Having such resilience typically depends more on emotional  rather than physical or mental strength. The underlying concept is whether a person can swim through the situation by pushing his or her physical, mental and emotional boundaries.

The importance of resilience in the corporate world can’t be emphasized more. It is survival of the fittest – whether in fending off the competition or adapting to market changes or making disruptive innovations. In times of crisis, quick thinking is needed  to succeed. In case of failure, an individual needs be able to absorb the setback, take lessons from the mistakes and charge ahead with a rekindled spirit. In either scenario, it is resilience which lets the person handle the situation accordingly.

What does it take to build resilience? How can people push their boundaries in their personal and professional lives? One of the finest examples of resilience is Ajeet Bajaj. He is the MD of Snow Leopard Adventures and Director of Adventure Nation, but before that he is an avid adventurer and explorer at heart. A Padma Shri awardee, Ajeet Bajaj is the first Indian to have skied to the both ends of our planet. He is also credited with the completion of the much coveted Polar Trilogy Expedition- the North Pole, South Pole and Greenland Icecap. So who better than this dynamic personality to talk about pushing the boundaries and developing resilience?

SHRM invited Ajeet Bajaj to speak about his experiences and how they can be relevant to organizations and its employees at The SHRM India Annual Conference and Exposition 2017 held in New Delhi.

Here is what he had to say.

Dream Big, Don’t Be Afraid to Follow Your Dreams

Ajeet commenced the session by recollecting his childhood dream of becoming a polar explorer like iconic legends namely Sir Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott and Fridtjof Nansen. When he finished college, his peers embarked on a real world corporate career. When he informed them that he had decided to pursue his passion, convert it into a profession and do crazy explorations such as river rafting, kayaking, mountaineering, scuba diving, skiing and trekking, they thought that he had lost his mind. But, when nobody believed in him, Ajeet believed in himself.

His first opportunity to transform his dream into reality came by when he was mentored by Sir Edmund Hillary, the then New Zealand High Commissioner on a white water rafting in Ganges. After that, he never looked back.

Well, isn’t this what every great business leader has done? From Steve Jobs and Richard Branson to Ratan Tata and Sachin Bansal, each of them has reached the places they are at with the power of their dreams!

Prepare, Organize, Deliberate and Stay Safe

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the business context, every situation has its pros and cons. While the outcome is not in your hands, preparing for the worst is definitely in your hands. That’s what Ajeetsays, and did too.

Before embarking on North Pole skiing venture, which is one of the hardestexpeditions on the planet, he went through months of pre-planning, physical workout and psyching himself to all possible scenarios that may happen. It was with this advance preparation that he overcame the challenges of minus 30 degree Celsius temperature, skiing on thin layers of ice on Arctic Ocean, pulling sledges weighing 70 kgs, crossing open water channels, walking away from 1000 miles away from civilization, hypothermia and severe wind chills. However, nothing had prepared him for the circumstances when faced with reality and the fact that he and his team were on their own without any rescue support at call.But, eventually when they reached their destination – the 90 degree latitude, there was no other feeling other than the achievement. All challenges were laid to rest in that moment of “I did it!” euphoria.

Ajeet then shared the secret formula called PODS for preparation for and success of a situation. PODS formula stands for:

P: Previous preparation

O: Organize in a super way, thinking ahead

D: Deliberate on every move because there is no chance of mistakes or else be ready to face consequences

S: Stay safe as well as keep your team and environment safe.

He also said that ethos, positive energy and humour are integral elements that can keep the person pushing the boundaries relentlessly when the going gets tough.

Ajeet’s PODS formula can be applied so aptly in business scenarios as well. An organization, a leader or a team has to identify every opportunity, anticipate every risk, calculate every move, and prepare and organize people to tackle the challenges that may arise and safeguard interests of everyone.

Just When You Think You Can’t Push More Boundaries, You Actually Can

A few months after returning from North Pole adventure, Ajeet was presented with an opportunity to become a part of South Pole expedition team. Was he ready? Ajeet admitted that he was physically and mentally tired, and at one point during the journey, he even cursed himself for landing in this situation. But, what inspired him to move forward was the national flag he had tucked in his bag and responsibility he carried on his shoulders. So, he braved minus 70 Degree Celsius temperatures, breathing difficulty, blizzards and fear of frostbites. He had no time and no option to stop or return. He had to follow the leader as well be the lead for the people who followed him. Eventually, when he unfurled the Indian national flag at the South Pole, the moment brought immense joy and pride to him.

In the organizational context, a continuous stream of challenges can make even the most resilient employee give up. But, there is always the scope for pushing further.

Ajeet also attributed the expedition’s success entirely to team spirit, ethos and hard work. He also quoted the story of the book ‘The Race for the South Pole’ (apparently, it is the holy grail of adventurists!) in which one team ended with a victory and other with a tragedy but still they stuck together.

In organizations too, it should not matter who get the credit as long as the success kisses your feet. However, to acquire this kind of commitment and sacrifice, organizations need to build a culture of ethos, which will lead to happier and healthier workplace environment.

Leadership is Much More Than Walking in the Front

Ajeet then took the audience through his Greenland Ice Cap adventures which completed his tour of Polar Trilogy. This time, he had also taken along his 14-year-old daughter and was in the company of people with whom he didn’t share the common language. The expedition was so harsh on their physical, mental and emotional endurance that he wondered if he made a blunder by coming to this adventure.

In the constant battle of survival, the dim rays of sun and the language of adventure through which the fellow adventurers communicated kept the momentum going. But, the most crucial factor was the leader of the team who guided them throughout, exercised judgement wherever necessary and led them to the victory.

According to Ajeet, leadership encompasses various factors:

  • Knowledge of the subject
  • Clear goal and objective
  • Generating excitement towards the goal
  • Leading by example, walking the talk
  • Ability to take decision, accepting full responsibility for it
  • Leading with value and ethics
  • Loyalty to your cause, peers and organization

Key Takeaways from the Session:

  • Resilience is all about being alert, agile and adaptable to situations.
  • Dream and think big. No challenge is too big. Take the challenges head-on, push yourself beyond the boundaries.
  • Leadership and team work are important ingredients for the recipe of success.
  • You will be always a winner with never die attitude.

The perks of pushing the boundaries are very rewarding. There is no one stopping you other than yourself. As the life coach Celestine Chua says it aptly “The only limits in your life are those that you set yourself.”


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