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 7: The ghosts of shared leadership: on decision-making and subconscious followership in the 'death zone' of K2

Markus Hällgren, Marcus Lindahl and Alf Rehn


Extreme environments are characterized in part by the romance and mystique ascribed to them, something that goes for leadership as well. Whereas the mystique of the former is connected to the perception of danger and risk, both have connections to transcending the mundane, heroism and the challenge and character of the self. Extreme environments would thus be highly likely to bring out extreme perceptions of leadership as well, including but not limited to attempted heroics and confusing risk-taking with leadership. In addition to this, the romantic notion of extreme environments would seem to dictate the necessity of a leader, and be influenced by the notion that leadership should emerge in such circumstances. Arguably, this would make people in extreme environments more likely to look for a leader to follow, or even – as we will argue herein – follow a leader that is simply not there.This chapter focuses on high-altitude mountaineering and the manner in which leadership patterns and roles emerge in the same. More precisely, we are inquiring into notions of leadership in the ‘death zone’, defined as the area above 8000 meters on a mountain where the human body quickly deteriorates due to the lack of oxygen. This is an environment that is both unambiguous and hellishly difficult, and where decisions have clear-cut and potentially fatal consequences. In 1996, eight climbers were killed on Mount Everest in what has become known as ‘the most widely publicized mountain-climbing disaster in history’ (Kayes, 2004, p._1267).

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