Table of Contents

Extreme Leadership

Extreme Leadership

Leaders, Teams and Situations Outside the Norm

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Edited by Cristina M. Giannantonio and Amy E. Hurley-Hanson

Much has been written about how leaders and teams function in traditional business settings, but there is comparatively scant literature on the behaviors of leaders and teams facing extreme situations: that is, situations that fall outside the scope of daily experience. This book presents cases drawn from a diverse set of non-traditional and extreme leadership scenarios, offering a fresh perspective on both leadership research and management practice.

Chapter 5: The Darwin mountaineering expedition in Patagonia: a case of successful leadership failure

Linda Rouleau, Geneviève Musca, Marie Perez and Yvonne Giordano

Subjects: politics and public policy, leadership


Why do some leaders succeed while others fail? The literature on leadership provides many different answers to this fundamental question (Avolio et al., 2009; Burke et al., 2011). Successful leadership is generally attributed to the leaders themselves, to the heroic qualities possessed and to the capacity to influence followers in order to achieve organizational goals (Hambrick, 2007; Carpenter et al., 2004). In contrast, leadership that does not provide positive outcomes tends to be attributed to political factors or to the lack of supportive conditions for the leader’s action (Smith et al., 2006). These answers largely come from leadership studies undertaken in traditional settings and which predominately explore leadership through quantitative data, gathered retrospectively (Boal and Hooijberg, 2000). In extreme conditions (Hannah et al., 2009), leadership that fails to achieve goals might also be perceived as being successful, as great leadership might still end up with poor results.In this chapter we propose an alternative view of leadership success and failure founded on the basic premise that success may translate into failure and vice versa. Under unusual circumstances this simple maxim needs to be applied more seriously in order to better understand the meaning of leadership in situations that lie outside the scope of daily experiences. In fast-paced, unexpected and uncertain environments, the failure of reliable leadership may be a prerequisite to coping successfully with leadership challenges (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2007).In order to better understand leadership success under extreme conditions, we draw on the Darwin mountaineering expedition, Project Darwin (

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