🛷 The Expedition to the South Pole – Roald Amundsen 🛷
„Preparation is Key“
Roald Amundsen, born in Norway in 1872, was a sailor, explorer and successful expedition leader of many research voyages mainly to the polar regions.
He had actually planned an expedition to the Arctic Circle in 1909 to become the first person to explore the North Pole. However, he changed his plans after hearing about the supposed success of two other explorers, Frederick Cook and Robert Peary, who had apparently beaten him to it.
His new goal was the South Pole, which had not yet been explored by man. On 3 June 1910, the crew set sail on the „Fram“, a ship owned by the explorer Fridtjof Nansen, without informing the crew and those involved about the new destination. Since he was not the only explorer who had set out for the South Pole at that time, he wanted to keep his intentions secret so as not to inform his rival in the „race for the South Pole“, Robert F. Scott. In September 1910, Amundsen informed his crew that they would be making their way to Antarctica. He asked every single one for support – not a single one denied it!
In January 1911, the Fram reached the Ross Ice Shelf and thus the Bay of Whales. Here the Fram team set up their base camp, called „Framheim“. From this point, several small excursions were started to set up depots for material, food and feed for the sledge dogs for the way to the South Pole.
On 20 October 1911, Amundsen and four companions, Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting, set off for the South Pole on four sledges and with 52 dogs. The team reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911, 35 days before Robert F. Scott and his group.
Amundsen’s success, which brought him fame in his home country and international respect, was unfortunately overshadowed by the death of his rival, Robert F. Scott. Scott and his team paid for the return journey from the South Pole with their lives.
The story of Roald Amundsen and Robert F. Scott can still teach us many lessons for teamwork and leadership today.
Roald Amundsen’s expedition was characterised by meticulous preparation and very detailed planning. For his crossing to the southern Arctic Circle, he used a ship that had already been tested for this region, Fridtjof Nansen’s Fram. In order to be able to assess the surroundings of the South Pole in a meaningful way, he orientated himself on the indigenous peoples living there. The material he used for clothing, footwear, skis and sledges was closely coordinated with the environment in which it was to be used. Even when he arrived in the Bay of Whales with his team, he used the time until departure to set up depots in order to be prepared for any eventuality on the way to the pole as well as on the way back. This was all done with his planning in mind, which was mainly dependent on the time of year and weather conditions.
„Good preparation is the key factor in any endeavour, an expedition, a project, a change within an organisation – whatever goal we set ourselves as leaders with our teams. We need to keep both the journey and the destination in mind and equally prepare for contingencies that may cross our path. In particular, we should focus on and integrate into our preparation the life and impact space in which we move in order to achieve a goal. Since we are always interacting with our environment through our actions, we may also pay special attention to the environment.”
For his expedition to the South Pole, Roald Amundsen took the Inuit as an example, the indigenous ethnic groups that still live in the Arctic Central, North-Eastern Canada and on Greenland today. To survive in this wilderness of ice, snow and wind, he immersed himself in their way of life and dealing with the prevailing nature. He chose his clothing, some of his food and his means of transport for the journey across the eternal ice based on the Inuit model.
One of his greatest advantages over Scott was shown in his decision to use sledges and dogs pulling those sledges for the passage to the South Pole. Scott decided to use horses and clumsy snowmobiles for transport, which were not really suitable for this environment. The engines, which needed vast amounts of petrol, failed already on the first half of the route to the South Pole. The horses, which also had to carry large amounts of hay as their food source, were not up to the conditions. Amundsen’s dogs were fast, light, able to make themselves small so as not to give the wind too much of an attack and ate meat, which was a natural food source like seals and fish.
„As leaders and teams, we should always be aware of our environment and validate the framework in which we are operating. Our decisions on how to deal with our environment, how to act or how to react to our environment are strongly dependent on our own assessment and adaptability. Experiences and approaches are usually context-dependent, or at least have to be transferred to new situations, scales or even cultural aspects. And sometimes we may let go of our experiences and perspectives to engage with a new environment – in our organisations, companies and projects.“
❄️ Identify, Assess and Mitigate Risks
No question, Amundsen was aware that an expedition like his to the South Pole would carry significant potential dangers – everyone on his team knew about it, everyone was aware of it. For this reason, he put a huge effort on his preparation, setup the appropriate depots for the journey and, as far as possible, sharpening his own perspective on the inhospitable environment he was about to explore with his team. And one thing he was also aware of – not only for himself, but also for his team, his men – was to minimise the possible risks in advance and to define fallback scenarios for the case of failure.
„Recognising and naming risks is an essential quality for leaders. On the one hand, to clarify how to deal with potential problems, but also to establish a culture in which problems are communicated honestly. Dealing openly with challenges, uncertainties and possible failure is of immense importance for the entire team. In the end, a leader with this exemplary approach gives the team permission to openly address problems and risks and to make them an issue.“
Why we should now follow Amundsens model?
Preparation is the fundament for every new project, change or goal we want to achieve. Without knowing how to start, where to go to, what to do and how to do things which have to be done we will probably lose our way at some point. Without preparation we have to rely on luck which is a good add-on but never a guarantee for success – and we sometimes have only one attempt to reach our goal.
If you want to learn more about Roald Amundsens Expedition, other explorers like, Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, Neil Armstrong, Thor Heyerdahl and what you can learn from their stories for your team & leadership just drop me a message.
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