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Antarctic Expedition Leader, Adventurer, Isolation & Resilience Expert

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Resilience is built long before it is ever tested.

David Knoff is an Antarctic Expedition Leader and Leadership expert who specialises in hostile environment diplomacy, resilience, remote leadership, specialized instruction, and mentoring.

His first furore onto the international stage was as a young Platoon Commander in the Solomon Islands in 2007, here, as part of the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI) he worked to maintain peace and order in the island nation.

It was this first leadership experience that shaped David's ethos and mindset for the years ahead and where he learnt valuable lessons about the need for empathetic leadership and adapting to experiences of the moment.

Current Work:

In 2019 seeking a change of environment and pace but seeking a role that would draw on all his previous experience, David embarked on an Antarctic Expedition to lead Australia’s Davis Research station for a year. What he and his team couldn’t have predicted was that whilst they were away, a global pandemic would change the world they left and leave them isolated longer than ever expected and forced to endure an extended stay without resupply and alone. David returned from Antarctic in April 2021 having spent an incredible 537 days away from Australia and having missed the entire of 2020 and the pandemic response, adapting to the new world and establishing himself in Melbourne as a professional speaker and expert on isolation and leadership.

Previous Experience:

Upon returning from the Solomon Islands, David began working with Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and was soon overseas on his first Diplomatic posting to the Australian High Commission, Islamabad, at the height of the International coalitions efforts to bring stability and peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It was here that David saw a different side of conflict and humanity as the security and political climate of the region changed daily and where certainty was rarely part of daily life. Following his time in Pakistan, David took a sabbatical from diplomacy and worked as a freelance photographer based in Istanbul, Turkey, as he followed the stories of refugees escaping the growing conflict in Syria to the ancient history of the Mediterranean.

As the conflict grew in Syria and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatened regional security, David was part of Australia’s contribution to Operational Enduring Freedom and the international effort to defeat ISIS. Here, David worked in a dynamic and hostile environment and learnt the value of empowering remote leaders and teams in unpredictable circumstances and under constant change.

Talking Points

Experience Antarctica

What is it like to lead an Antarctic expedition for 537 days, including nearly an entire year without resupply, whilst watching a global pandemic unfold from afar? This is the story and experience of how David and his team endured the harsh Antarctic environment and complex human experience facing uncertainty and adversity as the days, weeks and months ticked by and what it was like to return to a changed world. Focussing on resilience and motivation of individuals, leaders and teams as well as managing and leading in unique and challenging circumstances.

Leading through Adversity

A more focused session aimed at established and emerging leaders and those looking to further their leadership knowledge. How do you live with the team you lead? Where do you draw the line? How do you lead on your bad days? How do you keep a team together month after month as motivation declines and your team's individual and collective resilience is pushed to the breaking point... Focus on the 'Adaptive leadership' style and understanding your own leadership flaws and strengths to achieve success and understand the burden of leadership in adversity.

Isolated Crisis Management

Drawing on his years in global conflict zones and in Antarctica, David talks through how to prepare your team and individuals for critical incidents and how to respond the moment a crisis hits. How do you coordinate the aviation assets of three different nations, thousands of miles from home, with a narrow weather window, to achieve the medical evacuation of an expeditioner from Antarctica on Christmas Eve during a global pandemic? Focus on preparing yourself individually and as a team, and understanding what level of crisis and emergency you can manage without additional resources or assistance.
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