Two paths, one summit

December 2, 2015

Two paths

Understanding leadership to help develop it in others can attract people from diverse backgrounds. Two men with different paths but the same calling is high performance expert, David Buttifant, and mountaineer, Nick Farr.

One has consistently succeeded at the highest level in elite sport and has researched avidly. The other has climbed Mt Everest and guided hundreds of people in the outdoors.

Despite their different routes, both have arrived at a similar philosophy about leadership and the power of high altitude. That was certainly the feeling when David and Nick met to discuss the potential for collaboration this month.

Philosophies aligned: leadership and altitude

Resilience and leadership is a key theme for both men. Resilience is the capacity to absorb pressure and rebound from it.

Learning how to cope under pressure is something Buttifant works on with athletes and managers. “How will you deal with this (when the pressure builds)? What path will you take?” Buttifant asks. What will the mind do? Buttifant understands that when we are under pressure it is our awareness of our emotions and how we manage them that matter.

“Resilience defines us,” says Nick. “Resilience is fundamental to living well and achieving great things. It’s how we respond to adversity and setbacks that in many ways determines if we succeed – and how we fail”, Nick concludes.

Another attribute of leadership they both agree on is engagement. The leader has the ability to engage and influence. “Until you can reach in and grab that kids heart, you can’t coach him,” Buttifant Tweeted this week (quoting US college coach Bill McNees).

Nick Farr sees things a similar way. “Good leaders understand influence. They understand that to be effective they have to reach people on an emotional level. Only then can they start working with them to get the job done,” Farr says.

For both men, high altitude has a special role in delivering performance.

Buttifant cites the research that evidences the performance boost that comes from training at high altitude. He also talks about the training benefits: athletes returning from. High altitude is the domain in which he did much of his physiology research and using it helped propel Collingwood Football Club to a premiership in 2010. He’s lost none of his enthusiasm for it. For David, it’s about numbers and seeing the proof in what has worked.

Farr also admires what high altitude can help to achieve. Mountaineering success at high altitude – and the process required to achieve it – has strongly shaped his views about the mountains as an environment for change. “High altitude tests us in ways we don’t expect. It tests our leadership and our resilience,” Farr says. “‘It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves’, Sir Edmund Hillary said. He was right.”

A collaboration beckons

The convergence led Nick to invite David to work with The Everest Academy on a resilience program for young elite athletes planned for 2016. The focus will be on making resilience and stronger personal leadership the cornerstones for success.

“We’ll see how we go getting that up and head into 2016 with a real intent. There’s a number of ways I hope we can work together,” Nick says.

Never stop learning

Buttifant played football at VFL level before embarking on training others. Looking at Buttifant today you’d think he was still fit enough to pull on the boots. David also has a PhD in sports physiology and an MBA. “It’s important to never stop learning,” says Buttifant. David has also worked with Australia’s Olympic Team. David also works as a leadership facilitator.

But David is perhaps best known for his work in the AFL – in particular, for his work in working beside Mick Malthouse to win a premiership for Collingwood FC in 2010.

Although David respects the objectivity of science, others have observed that there is far more to him than that. He is recognised as a man to whom others turn in times of need. It was reported that it was to Buttifant that then Collingwood player Harry O’Brien turned when he was dealing with the loss of his father – secure in the knowledge that he would receive empathy and support.

Always rebound

Nick is perhaps best known for his story of personal resilience. In 2005, Nick summited Mt Everest under conditions so adverse that almost everyone attempting the summit that day turned back. Resilience got him there – and back, he says.

Nick tells a tough story: one of absorbing setbacks and rebounding from them. For example, in 2003, Nick lost one of his close friends near the summit of Cho Oyu (the 6th highest mountain in the world). It could have been the end of his campaign to climb the world’s highest mountain. But with determination and support, Nick rebounded.

Nick has also founded a ski tour business and has coached and led more than 1000 people in challenging high altitude environments across the world. Nick also has more than 15 years’ experience delivering leadership workshops and inspiration to business managers and elite teams.

By John Carruthers



“Keeping A Grip Under Pressure”, David Buttifant, blogpost, 25 November 2015

“Collingwood’s 23rd man, David Buttifant, is the scientific secret to their success”, The Australian, October 1, 2011

“Why athletes crave resilience”, John Carruthers & Nick Farr, The Everest Academy blogpost, 29 November 2015