Belfast Telegraph

Words of wisdom in a time of crisis from inspirational leader

By Margaret Canning

Not many business speakers are forced to apply their own wisdom when confronting the worst imaginable physical setback.

But Mark Pollock, guest speaker at the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards tomorrow, had to apply much of what he had spoken to businesspeople about after an accident in 2010 left him paralysed.

Mr Pollock (36) whose many feats of physical endurance have led to engagements as speaker at corporate events, has been blind since the age of 22.

Despite his disability, the Co Down man has gone on to compete in endurance races across deserts, mountains, and the polar ice caps. His many achievements include a race to the South Pole, six marathons in seven days in the Gobi Desert and the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon.

But he fell from a second storey window in 2010, breaking his back. He is now undergoing aggressive physical therapy and is employing robotic technology to help him regain some mobility.

He spoke to the Belfast Telegraph from Harvard University in Massachusetts, where he has been taking part in a course for young leaders.

Mr Pollock was one of 199 people from 70 countries who attended a Young Global Leader summit at the World Economic Forum.

He explained that "leadership through crisis" is a theme he often returns to.

"Hope is all about things being great and improving and realism is about recognising the good, bad and ugly that's going on.

"Studies have shown that both of these things need to run in tandem in order to ead and manage successfully in crisis.

"Two weeks after my accident in 2010 I wrote a blog entitled 'Optimist, Realist or Something Else?' and I questioned these very points."

In that blog, he wrote: "For the past 10 years I have been helping companies to redefine how they approach challenges and take action to deal with them. I tell people to deal in facts, make it happen and build the right team around them for the job.

"It worked when I went blind and it worked for the south pole, Gobi Desert and all my adventure races. But right now I am nervous about applying my own code to my current situation."

Mr Pollock said he had to ask himself of the material he discussed with business, "was it relevant or was it just a corporate talk?"

While the extremes of his suffering and the challenge he faced were tougher than most of us will hopefully ever have to contend with, Mr Pollock said.

"Fundamentally all of us are balancing this idea of being brutally honest, brutally real, while at the same time having hope that things can be improved and running," he said.

He also believes business people should risk showing their true selves and vulnerabilities to the people they lead – so guests at tomorrow night's event should enjoy an interest and stimulating discussion from Mr Pollock.

Belfast Telegraph