Leaders, Teams and Situations Outside the Norm
Edited by Cristina M. Giannantonio and Amy E. Hurley-Hanson
Chapter 2: Extreme leadership and decision-making: Scott and Amundsen and the race to the South Pole
The chapter examines the leadership and decision-making of Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen as their teams competed in 1911–1912 to be first to the South Pole, a return journey to base camp of approximately 1500 miles. Amundsen’s Norwegian team succeeded and returned safely. Scott’s British team reached the pole 33 days later than Amundsen’s and perished on the return journey. A search party discovered their remains, journals and scientific materials eight months later.The race to the South Pole in 1911–1912 is a rare historical episode. It involved two leaders, teams and expeditions with almost identical objectives competing in the same place and at the same time to become the first to conquer the South Pole. The two expeditions had two vastly different outcomes. The case captures the significance of leadership and decision-making in extreme situations. It demonstrates how seemingly minor choices can produce significant unforeseen outcomes, and how early and later decisions together produce a tipping point toward disaster. The chapter draws lessons about leadership and the importance of vigilant decision-making and learning from experience, for success and survival in extreme situations. I will examine a set of strategic, tactical and operational decisions made by the leaders in six key areas and how they might have affected the outcomes of the two expeditions. I draw on primary and secondary sources, such as Scott’s and Amundsen’s diaries and historical accounts, for the analysis and discussion.
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