Limits and Pushing Through Them in Leadership

By Tim Winstone

Jun 02

I’ve always thought that if I had lived in a different time, I would’ve been an explorer that constantly sought new adventures and opportunities. I have such a passion for adventure sports. These always involves pushing yourself to your absolute limits and beyond what you think is possible. 

Human beings are an amazing species, and our ability to push beyond what we think and believe is possible is one of the many attributes that have allowed us to survive and evolve.  Part of the reason I love adventure is that it takes you to new places. This is because it allows you to engage in new experiences and tests your physical and mental limits and all while in the company of other like-minded adventure seekers.

I have often reflected on parallels between taking part in high intensity adventure sport and leadership development. In particular it relates to the field of Vertical Leadership Development. This is ultimately about expanding a person’s capacity to lead. Nick Petrie, a world leading researcher in Vertical Leadership Development describes three core elements for it to thrive:

  1. Entering the ‘Heat Zone’
  2. Obtaining ‘Colliding Perspectives’ and 
  3. Practicing ‘Reflection’. 

The combination of these three conditions enable leaders to grow their capacity to lead and take on new experiences (adventures).

What can we learn from endurance sports and activities that can be applied to leadership?

A book that captivated me recently was ‘Endure’ by Alex Hutchinson. It explores the world of endurance sports and the different elements that enable humans to reach limits no-one thought possible. The book ponders whether an individual’s physical limits are set by their body or their brain, or a combination of both. What controls our ability to endure through elements? Is it our physical limitations as humans, or does our brain play a key role in protecting us from harm? 

Hutchinson shares that in many cases our brain will set ‘alerts’ before we can cause physical harm. It’s possible to push through our limits to achieve what we think is unachievable. Because endurance athletes constantly balance the risks of pushing on in their sport even when the brain is signalling to stop, these athletes have the ability to reset what their limits are – but can be very costly if pushed too far.

Pushing Beyond Perceived Limits

Can we push beyond perceived limits in our leadership? Can we extend beyond what our brain says we are comfortable with and reset the limits of what’s possible? Those who climb Mt Everest, don’t attempt to push past their physical limits (oxygen deprivation) and head straight to the top. They acclimatise and set new limits as to what their body can sustain.   

As you work towards a new goal, break it down into achievable stretches that enter the ‘heat zone’. Ensure that you come back to within your limits. So, reflect, gain perspective and then you can push further.  Building such a mindset as habit will allow you to challenge and extend your leadership capacity. Just like physical endurance, you need to be mindful of what physical limits exist. These are the ones that you don’t want to exceed.

If you want to find out more on this topic, I recommend reading ‘Endure’ by Alex Hutchinson, ISBN: 9780062499981

Thanks for reading!


If you’re interested in entering your own ‘heat zone’ to push beyond your limits and stretch yourself why not think about coaching? Here’s a little bit about what we do in this space: One-on-One Coaching

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