Leaders, Teams and Situations Outside the Norm
New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by Cristina M. Giannantonio and Amy E. Hurley-Hanson
Chapter 3: Leadership and organizational learning in extreme situations: lessons of a comparative study from two polar expeditions - one of the greatest disasters (Franklin, 1845) and one of the best achievements (Nansen, 1893)
The comparative study of two emblematic polar expeditions of the late nineteenth century, one of the greatest disasters (Captain Sir John Franklin’s Royal Navy Northwest Passage Expedition, 1845–1848), and one of the greatest successes (Fridtjof Nansen’s Norwegian North Polar Expedition, 1893–1896), directs the issue of leadership in extreme situations to manage collective action which takes the form of a process of organizational learning (Argyris and Schon, 1978, 1996) or a learning organization (Senge, 1994). This idea of understanding the development of a project under uncertainty as a process of organizational learning was developed for many years by Midler (1995). But there is no learning organization without individual learners, according to Argyris and Schon (1996). It is a necessary condition, but not sufficient. The history of these two expeditions shows that the first quality of a leader of the expedition is the ability to learn, with reference to the project he leads. Franklin did not learn throughout the project; this was the cause of its failure. Nansen learned throughout the expedition, and this was the cause of his achievement. In a first step, we propose some framework elements and definitions around extreme situations and polar expeditions. In a second step, we provide a comparative analysis of the Franklin expedition to conquer the Northwest Passage, and the Nansen expedition to the North Pole, in ;0;0?>terms of organizational learning. In conclusion we identify some principles of the organizational learning process which are central to managing extreme situations.
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