Leadership Icon: Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary is renown as the legendary mountaineer and humanitarian who first conquered Everest in 1953.  And today, as people around the world celebrate the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund’s conquest of Everest,  I would like to pay a special tribute to him as a great leader.

Sir Edmund Hillary

He may not have led a big team of people or headed up a corporation in his monumental feat of Everest, but he demonstrated many traits of an accomplished leader – both in his actions in reaching the summit, and in the way he lived his life following the event. The values he lived and the way he conducted himself give all of us pause for thought.

He was a shining example (and believer) of the concept that ordinary people can aspire to great things – not necessarily by possessing exceptional skill, but through harnessing desire, courage, and determination to succeed.

A ‘we’ man, rather than an ‘I’ man, he believed wholeheartedly in doing the right thing, for the benefit of the communal whole – rather than seeking individual advancement at the expense of others. This is demonstrated in the fact that he devoted most of his life to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal through the Himalayan Trust, which he founded.

He also displayed enormous courage, showing us that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the decision to keep going in spite of it.  On his struggle to reach the summit; “My solar plexus was tight with fear as I ploughed on. Halfway up I stopped, exhausted. I could look down 10,000 feet between my legs, and I have never felt more insecure. Anxiously I waved Tenzing up to me.”

Mt Everest

Although he is most famously remembered for his quintessentially Kiwi statement upon reaching Everest, “We knocked the bastard off”, there are many other quotes from Sir Edmund which signify what a great leader he was.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes from Sir Edmund Hillary:

“You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things; to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated.”

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”

“I don’t know if I particularly want to be remembered for anything. I have enjoyed great satisfaction from my climb of Everest and my trips to the poles. But there’s no doubt, either, that my most worthwhile things have been the building of schools and medical clinics. That has given me more satisfaction than a footprint on a mountain.”

“I’ve always hated the danger part of climbing, and it’s great to come down again because it’s safe … But there is something about building up a comradeship — that I still believe is the greatest of all feats — and sharing in the dangers with your company of peers. It’s the intense effort, the giving of everything you’ve got. It’s really a very pleasant sensation.”

“I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top. They don’t give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn’t impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die.”

“In some ways I believe I epitomise the average New Zealander: I have modest abilities, I combine these with a good deal of determination, and I rather like to succeed.”

“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”

So thanks Sir Ed, for your continuing inspiration.


  1. Conquer the most important mountain – Sir Edmund Hillary | Leadership Scrum on May 29, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    […] Leadership Icon: Sir Edmund Hillary (theleadersdigest.me) […]

  2. mcalpmagoo on May 29, 2013 at 5:14 am

    His haircut is legendary too


Leave a Comment

Recent Posts from The Leader's Digest

Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

Welcome to

The Leader's Digest

Subscribe to The Leader’s Digest

Receive trending leadership topics and tips, straight to your inbox.

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Internationally Recognised


The Leader's Digest App