The Key To Becoming An Effective Leader

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On 21 June, I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by Dr Sarah Hanieh at the Doherty Institute and recipient of a PhD in Medicine from The University of Melbourne.

She titled her speech “Breaking Through The Ice”.

The insights in her presentation were based on her adventures during a trip to Antarctica through the Homeward Bound Project (a ground-breaking leadership initiative for women in science, set against the backdrop of Antarctica, which aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape our planet.)

There were three leadership lessons that Dr Hanieh shared with the audience.

She has kindly granted permission to share these lessons with you.

Now, you may be thinking “Do these lessons really apply to me? I am not in Antarctica. I am not in a leadership position”. Rest assured, these three leadership lessons are universal and can be applied by anyone, in any area of life. I have certainly started applying these lessons in my professional, academic and personal life.

Follow the right leader 

Dr Hanieh used a video of a waddle of penguins who are jumping off blocks of ice to get to dry land. One penguin chooses the path and the others follow, in order to make it to dry land safely. Her message was simple, yet emphatic. From a subordinate’s point of view, following the right leader will take you to where you ought (not necessarily want) to go. From a leader’s point of view, if you are not heading in the right direction, how will you lead your subordinates there?

This reminded me of an audio program that I once invested in, where the legendary Bob Proctor boldly stated, “There is a difference between leaders and bosses”. In my professional life, there has been no shortage of bosses. There have been very few true leaders. If you are a leader (in any capacity – captain of a sports team or a manager in the workplace), please ask yourself this question,  “Am I heading in the direction where my team needs to go?”  If you are a subordinate, please ask yourself this question, “Is my leader heading in the direction where I need to go? If not, what feedback can I provide to my leader?”

Embrace the unknown 

The unknown can instill fear in you. Dr Hanieh shared the story of what happened moments before all the women in the leadership expedition boarded the ship (bound for Antarctica) in Ushuaia (south of Argentina). Some of the women were very nervous. It was the fear of the unknown. Questions such as “What lies out there?” were at the forefront of the minds of many of her travelling companions.

Embracing the unknown does not mean foolishly making bold decisions. It means being open to possibilities. In the 1990’s, there was a television commercial to advertise tourism for the Northern Territory. The slogan for that commercial was “You will never, never know if you never, never go”. Dr Hanieh’s message for leaders was simple: do not be afraid of the unknown, embrace the opportunities that the unknown may present.

Additionally, she stated, when you are faced with the unknown, celebrate the fact that you have the freedom to make a choice. Choices means liberty to decide. Not everyone has that option. She shared the story of when the ship was bound for a British scientific research station called Rothera. It was a place far down south in Antarctica that very few people get to visit. They only accept two visiting ships per year; her ship was one of the two. However unexpectedly, their planned path was completely frozen over. They were faced with two remaining choices : 1) To turn around and return, 2) To take a longer route, which would mean going out into open seas and facing extremely rough water. This meant facing the unknown.

Excel in empathy 

Following on from point 2, the expedition leader and ship’s captain called a meeting with all of the women. He presented the 2 options to them and asked for a vote. Nearly all of the women voted to go into open water via the longer route, face the unknown, to reach Rothera. However, a minority of women voted against that idea. They were concerned about sea sickness in open water. The group’s leaders displayed exceptional empathy and took into account the sea sickness concerns of these women. The decision was not to go into open water.

This is an emphatic lesson in leadership. Although, according to democratic rules, the leaders should have listened to the majority, they had empathy for the minority. As the old adage goes, “Sometimes you have to let your heart, not your intellect lead the way”. By the way, the weather cleared, and they were able to reach Rothera!

So, there you have it, 3 leadership lessons from the bottom of the world. I sincerely hope that you can apply all/some of these in your daily life.

Quote: “The key to becoming an effective leader is not to focus on making other people follow, but on making yourself the kind of person they want to follow.” John Maxwell.

Let’s send our utmost gratitude to Dr Hanieh for sharing her insights with us.

Influencing you to your excellence,



Ron Prasad is an author, speaker, life coach, and an anti-bullying campaigner. He is passionate about empowering his clients in their personal development. Visit him at: