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How can the first man to swim at the North Pole help us to be better recruiters?

Sometime last year my wife was trying to convince me to watch a video from a motivational speaker called Lewis Pugh who was the first man to swim at the North Pole.  I was more than a little cynical at the time, but I gave in to her (as I usually do!) as it did pique my interest to know why anyone would be crazy enough to swim in water in which the average human would die within a minute if he or she happened to fall in (never mind the polar bears!).


Not only did I discover what an incredible feat of human spirit Lewis had achieved but I also learnt that he was an absolutely exceptional public speaker. He was able to relate the challenges and lessons he had learnt swimming in some of the most inhospitable locations on the planet back to the day-to-day challenges and nuances of corporate life. He did this with an incredible passion and I found myself thinking how we can use these lessons to be better recruiters.
The top 3 lessons I took away were:

1. Do not be held back by negative limiting beliefs. 

Lewis explained that limiting beliefs are those which constrain us in some way and hold us back from achieving what we are all capable off. They can be about ourselves, our friends, people we work with, our managers, those we report to at work or the world and market in general.  When we limit our beliefs about what is possible or believe other people’s negative beliefs about what we can achieve, then we don’t even ask for help or try and we have already failed before we begin. 

In Lewis`s case if he had believed and listened to those around him he would never have even started to consider swimming at the North Pole. He would also, due to his own limiting beliefs never have completed a swim across the Maldives when his support boat broke down. Lewis was ready to pack up and go back to base but luckily for him,  his Captain did not suffer from the same limiting beliefs as himself at the time, so when their boat broke down in the Maldives and they spotted a luxury yacht they suspected belonged to Roman Abramovic on the horizon, he was happy to call up Chelsea football club to ask for help and was subsequently rescued by Mr Abramovich! 

Whilst listening to Lewis’ adventures I found myself asking myself how often in recruitment do recruiters tell themselves that a mandate is too hard, the market is too slow, or too competitive, the candidate does not exist, my desk is harder than everyone else’s, the client is being unrealistic, this MD or CEO at “x” company will not talk to me, I will be rejected, I am too junior to talk to this person.....and so on.  Everyone I have seen who has been truly successful in recruitment not only has a huge passion for working and helping people but has been filled with the self-belief of what they can achieve.  High performers will continually ignore negative self-talk and push away limiting beliefs away in order to achieve exceptional performance.

2. Sometimes the hard way is not only the best way it’s the only way 

What Lewis and his team have achieved is close to impossible and yet they did it through hard work, preparation and determination. Lewis and his team actually carried a boat half way up Everest so that Lewis could safely conduct a swim across a glacier lake to highlight how Global Warming is affecting our environment (the lake wasn’t there a few years ago!). As you can imagine, carrying a boat up Everest and swimming across a Glacier lake are not easy feats. Although admittedly it did not involve quite as much effort (or ice cold water), I found myself thinking of one of the most satisfying times in my early career as a recruiter – this was a placement that came from a role that first took me months to win and involved me tracking down the client and eventually managing to convince him to meet . 

I  built a relationship from scratch and after establishing credibility and trust I was able to win a retained senior mandate. All went well until the candidate changed their minds and backed out the day before they were due to start. Starting again all went well again until the replacement did exactly the same thing. Did I give up?  No.  Instead, I started again and 3 months later when the candidate I found for them eventually started with them it felt like I had won the lottery.  

Sometimes in recruitment, as in life, we need to go through the tough times to appreciate the good ones.  I can also apply to this to my current role Ambition. At Ambition, we are committed to taking our business from where it is now (which is in a “good” place) to a “GREAT” place. When I ask myself if this is an easy journey the answer is no it isn’t. We could continue to operate in a “good” place which would be easy to do but there would be no excitement, fun or sense of achievement in that? I am a huge believer in and passionate about working within a high performing team environment and at Ambition we are making it happen.

3. Humility is an under-rated asset. 

When Lewis was choosing his support team to attempt his North Pole swim he talked about getting experts in their field; individuals who were the best at what they do. However, he also talked about finding individuals with great humility. Why? Individuals with humility are willing to listen, can adapt to change quicker, are happy to admit their mistakes as well as form lasting long term relationships. Arrogant individuals tend not to listen, will always believe they are right and will not be willing to change. 

I found myself thinking of those individuals with low self-awareness that we have all met in professional life, those that do not listen or are unwilling to change. They will believe they are always right and often confuse the ability to talk with the ability to communicate. Many of the most successful recruiters I know have a special combination of self-belief,  confidence but also demonstrate great humility.
If you want to hear more from Lewis then I would highly recommend reading his book “Achieving the Impossible” or checking his videos out on YouTube @
If you want to learn more about Ambition and joining a business committed to high performance and providing a platform for individuals to fulfill their potential then contact me or visit

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