Business Leader recently caught up with adventurer and television personality Ed Stafford, to talk about leadership, dealing with difficult team members, and the key to survival.
Can you tell readers about your background?
My careers advisor told me that I was best suited to the role of a logistics manager for Boots, which was very random and specific. I joined the army though because I had always liked the outdoors and I saw it as being an excuse to not get a proper job.
The army gave me a good grounding in leadership and management, before I left in 2002. I then wanted to become a stock broker and studied for a diploma in securities, but when I saw a role as an expedition leader I applied and the rest is history.
It wasn’t long before I wanted to go out on my own though and do something big. I had the idea to walk the Amazon and was looking for examples of where somebody had done this. I couldn’t find any, so it was a lightbulb moment and I realised it could be a world first.
I managed to secure sponsorship and a publishing deal even before we started, so it was a major thing and the beginning of my career as an explorer and adventurer.
Of all of the survival expeditions you’ve been one, which one was the toughest?
I would say walking the Amazon was one of the toughest but for duration and intensity, being stranded on a desert island on my own for two months – Naked and Marooned with Ed Stafford – was hard to top.
It drew a line under survival TV as we weren’t making anything up. There was no script and I unravelled mentally. Isolation is very raw because you have no phone, cigarette or drink to reach for to distract yourself from the issues you’re facing and should be addressing.
It was a huge test of my mental state and it was incredibly tense.
What did you learn from being naked and marooned that you can take into other situations?
I suffered from a breakdown about two years after this experience and what I learnt was that meditation is something that can greatly help you.
I was very caught up in my head, but I learnt that you don’t need to engage with every thought, and you can step back from them. It all starts to calm down once you do and you can approach life and events from a much more peaceful place. When you’re in survival mode, having a clear mind can make a huge difference.
Is it a come-down to return to the UK after spending time in these exotic locations?
I love to come back to the UK now as I have made a home for myself and I am married with a child. This was different though when I was coming back to a two bedroom flat in Battersea and I was single. You would go from the most beautiful corners of the world and the coolest job to come home and drink beers until 4am.
I have a harbour to return to now, which is my wife Laura and son Ran. It’s not about the physical possessions but the purpose of a family.
In your opinion, what makes good leadership?
Honesty and trust are very important. I never understand why people tell lies, and I don’t understand the point of being a false version of yourself. It just seems to complicate everything.
Secondly, being confident enough to make decisions is a trait of good leaders but it’s always a balance between not being arrogant and thinking you know everything.
Arrogance is a trait of bad leadership because if you don’t question yourself, you have less capacity to grow. Having less confidence and a bit more insecurity makes you more humble and able to improve yourself.
Finally, I would say that good leadership is about harnessing the strength of the group and taking other people’s opinions on board, as opposed to always assuming yours is correct.
When leading a team, how do you deal with a negative team member?
If you can’t get them out of the team you can go both ways. You can be very compassionate with them and invest in that person and try to bring them back into the group. To be honest though, often the person needs to make that decision for themselves and look at why they are being so negative.
Alternatively, you sometimes need to be heavy-handed with them and use discipline to correct the issue. Moaning is a caner when you’re trying to achieve something, and you can’t let it come into your environment as it spreads and eats away at everything you’re doing.
Every team has somebody like it. You can take them to the most beautiful island in the world and they’ll find a problem.
What does the future hold for you?
We’re excited about the future and there is a lot of activity in the pipeline. We will continue to make programmes, but for me it’s a battle to try and stay authentic and ensure we’re making television that is raw and true.