Extreme Leadership
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Extreme Leadership

Leaders, Teams and Situations Outside the Norm

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.
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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)

Pascal Lièvre and Géraldine Rix-Lièvre


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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