Analysis of The Last Place on Earth
Analysis of The Last Place on Earth
The Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford is a story about the exploratory journey of two men in a struggling race in order to be the first to make it to the South Pole. The first man to be discussed is Captain Robert Falcon Scott from Britain. Scott was an officer in the British Royal navy and led with an authoritarian style. The explorer that Scott was racing is a Norwegian named Roald Amundsen. Throughout both of their journeys each man displayed characteristics of an effective leader. It was not until further into their journey that we find whom the truly effective leader was. Each man led with different styles, some of which were more effective than the other. These styles of leadership and the positive and negative aspects of each will be discussed in an analytical matter for each explorer.
Sir Robert Falcon Scott
Scott was heralded as an officer of the Royal Navy and was considered by most to be a great leader. Scott demonstrated a few characteristics of a great leader throughout the story but it was his befuddlements that sat him apart and truly showed how badly he had led his team. One of the positive characteristics that Scott had was that he had a loyal group of followers. A true leader must know how to maintain and align their followers in order to communicate their vision and accomplish the plan. (Daft 17) Scott had such great support from his followers he had people volunteer to go on his expedition and he could only allow so many people to go. (Huntford 260) This proved to be the first mistake Scott made. Scott’s team was made up of British officers, multiple scientists, one dog handler, one professional skier, and a few others. Due to Scott’s incompetence in selecting his team they were grossly under prepared for the journey about to come, which ultimately cost him and his crew their life. Scott’s incompetence and hubris led him to believe that he could lead an expedition to the South Pole. The sole reason Scott volunteered for the expedition was to become a Captain and after a year of knowing he would be going on this expedition Scott had yet to learn about polar exploration. (Huntford 117, 129) The most negative aspect to Scott’s leadership would have to be his inability to listen. Several times his crew negatively commented on something Scott would like to do only to be talked down to as if their opinion didn’t matter. (Huntford 309, 516) Effective listening is an important characteristic for a leader to have in order to communicate with followers. (Daft 266) This is important because when a leader doesn’t listen it can result in poor communication, which can cause major oversights in planning as shown by Scott. Another negative aspect to Scott’s leadership was that he used a very autocratic style of leadership. What this means is that he tended to derive his power from his top position and would coercively lead his group with no thought of their feelings. (Daft 44)(Huntford 303) This led to a very hostile environment where none of Scott’s followers wanted to listen to him anymore. This exemplifies another faulty characteristic of Scott, which is that he did not motivate his followers and provided no stimulation for them. It is believed that part of a leaders job it to motivate the followers in order to increase productivity and arouse enthusiasm so that the followers want to be there working. (Daft 226)
Amundsen was a great leader and was admired by his team for his skills and his enthusiasm for exploration. Unlike Scott Amundsen had many more positive aspects to his leadership abilities than negative aspects. The first positive aspect was his ability to form a diverse and effective team. Every member of the Norwegian group was recruited for some sort of expertise that would be useful for an arctic trek of this magnitude. (Huntford 245-254) Unlike Scotts group Amundsen had a dog driver, skier, carpenter, tent fabricator, surgeon, and navigator, all of whom were skilled in more than one of these categories. Diversity is important for a team to have because it increases a team’s flexibility to perform tasks and it provides a broader base of experience for problem solving. (Daft 336) Another positive aspect to Amundsen’s characteristics is that he was a very effective communicator. Often times Amundsen had planned the details out so far ahead and delegated these plans to the crew so well that he did not need to tell them when and where to do their work because they already knew. (Huntford 321) Amundsen used the democratic style of leadership in order to delegate his ideas and plans to his crew. (Daft 44) Also as a democratic leader he would encourage participation and often he relied on his subordinates knowledge and embraced this knowledge because he knew without his crew he could not complete this expedition. This shows that Amundsen relied on his crew as much as they relied on him. (Huntford 248) While Amundsen was a democratic leader he also commanded authority by having his crew sign a contract that said they would honor and obey the leader at all times. (Huntford 249) By commanding this authority he let his crew know without a doubt that at all times he is the leader and he is in charge of the entire crew. Throughout the journey Amundsen displayed one negative aspect and that was when he decided to leave early on August 24th. Amundsen left early for fear of Scott beating him to the pole. This shows that all though Amundsen was a great leader even the best can allow their ego to get the better of them. (Huntford 386-387) This was the first time Amundsens authority had been challenged. Amundsen kept calm and explained why he left early went ahead of the group and one by one he got a reaffirmation of each crew members loyalty to him. This ability to stay calm and rectify a possible mutiny shows great leadership.
Characteristics of effective and less effective leaders
There are many characteristics of an effective leader and just because a person exemplifies these characteristics does not necessarily mean that they are meant to be a leader. There is a multitude of different ways a person can lead others. From my experience the most effective leaders are often the best communicators. The best communicators, or communication champions, can clearly and concisely articulate a vision not just so everyone can understand but also are influenced to accomplish the vision. (Daft 272) Amundsen is clearly a communication champion because he would make sure everybody knew what he or she were doing and where they were going. For a leader to be effective they must have followers that are willing to listen. It only makes sense for someone to want to be led by someone that they can effectively listen to and understand. The ability to affectively listen is another key characteristic of an effective leader and an effective follower. This is because a leader does not know or necessarily have all the information his subordinates might have. Scott was a less effective leader because he refused to listen to his crew when told about the horses being bad or needing more dogs. Another key to effective leadership is the empowerment of ones subordinates. I believe this is important because it allows a subordinate the freedom to express his or her own opinions or make his or her own decisions without oppression from a peer. Amundsen allowed his men to express their thoughts on supplies and the route to take and they made it home safely. Scott on the other hand did not listen to his followers and his crew perished because of this.
Daft, Richard L. The Leadership Experience 4th edition. 2008. Thomson. Mason, Ohio
Huntford, Roland. The Last Place on Earth. 1999. Random House Inc. New York, New York.