• | 9:00 am

What leadership lessons can you learn from these Arab mountaineers?

Arab mountaineers Nelly Attar and Raha Moharrak share insights on how to focus on the things you can control under pressure.

What leadership lessons can you learn from these Arab mountaineers?
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Summiting a mountain is a life-changing experience, and for a good reason. With near-life and death situations at every nook, mountaineers that manage to reach the top of the peak know what it takes to be in a state of vulnerability and have the odds in their favor. 

In recent months, many Arab countries have planted their flags on the summits of the world’s tallest mountains. We speak to two Arab mountaineers about how the world’s most challenging terrains changed their lives and what leadership lessons the ultramarathons left them with. 


When you’re going through a difficult period, it feels like the world is against you, be assured that is exactly how it feels when summiting a mountain. Nelly Attar recently clinched the record of being the first-ever Arab woman to summit K2, the world’s second highest peak. Nelly says that climbers regard K2 as the ultimate achievement in mountaineering because its terrain is much more challenging than Everest. Having summited Everest, she has first-hand experience of how K2 lives up to its reputation as the “savage mountain.”

“You have no guarantee that you’ll make it to the top,” says Nelly, describing the unpredictable conditions on the mountain.

But instead of focusing on the difficulty of K2, she says channeling her focus on taking the next step was what helped her work through the journey.

We often get overwhelmed by looking at our problems and believe we’re incapable of dealing with them because it’s too daunting. “Instead of thinking of reaching the top at the start, I was actively engaged in focusing and breathing. I’d tell myself to focus on the next step; that’s all that mattered. When I had nothing more in me or was exhausted, I’d remind myself, ‘just the next step,’ and the steps would take me forward over time,” says Nelly.

“I learned that I can even overcome something as big as Mount Everest one step at a time. You can tackle problems with the same simplicity and mentality”, says Raha Moharrak, the youngest Arab and the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest. 

Raha has summited over seven expeditions previously and says the biggest takeaway has been that: “You can’t solve everything at the same time, and you can’t feel everything in one moment.” 

“I’ve learned to take small steps and to accept that it takes you time to achieve your dreams.”

“Nothing just happens in one day,” Raha adds. 


When summiting Everest (8,848 meters) or K2 (8,611 meters), comparable to ultramarathons with interminable obstacle courses, spread out over two months, it’s important to realize the power of vulnerability. The grueling months of surviving in a tent on a glacier, straining your physical and mental capabilities to the furthest limits, and dealing with life-threatening situations make you weak and vulnerable. 

“You have to recognize fear is constant; fear is a friend. You can’t fight it; you have to take it, experience it,” says Raha. 

“To be able to be afraid to do something, despite the fear, but do it anyway,” is essential when taking on a task that requires your all, she adds.

Nelly explains how summiting K2 has to do with the unpredictable variables such as climatic conditions on a day and every day you move forward, knowing that you may not be able to go further to the top.

Despite the weather being in her expedition’s favor, she adds that challenges such as several more people on the mountain sometimes pose a problem. “We faced a lot of rockfalls due to climate change.” 

“There’s no amount of preparation that can equip you for the challenges up there,” Nelly says. “You must come to terms with changing plans on the go, encountering a storm, rockfall, or anything unpredictable.” 


Remembering your roots while summiting is an anchor that keeps you grounded and motivated. Along the way to the top of the peak, it is essential to remain honest with your body, so creating a culture of self-assessment is crucial. 

“The summit means a lot more than the achievement. It is also an achievement that is emotional, mental and social.”

“It represents what can be achieved by beating forward through the odds,” says Raha. 

“You have to be real and accept that it’s alright to find your pace,” says Nelly. 

“Up there, you’re not competing with anybody but your inner voice and self.” 


Reaching the top of the peak is always a moment of joy. “There are no words to describe the feeling,” says Nelly, having made it to the top of K2 with Lebanon’s flag. “I felt a mix of pride and humility. I was thinking of my God, family, my nation, my supporters,” she adds. 

“I realized what it meant to live my dreams despite the odds. Standing on that mountain, I lived the rewards of achieving something beyond what you usually imagine… the feeling is incredible,” adds Raha.

Even at the top, thoughts of the journey back down to where it all started will help you to find a balance. 

There’s a reality check nobody talks about. Nelly says, “After the excitement and tears of victory, you know the journey is only half done. You have to work your way down.” 

“It’s a short-lived victory but one that molds you for the better and is relevant throughout life’s stages.”

  Be in the Know. Subscribe to our Newsletters.


Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. More

More Top Stories: