Scott 100 Day 127 8th March 1912 : Anxiety

Anxiety. Scott is writing his journals during the lunchtime stop, exhaustion forcing a quick end to the day and the longed for rest. Oates is no longer in harness and Smith believes this must have been humiliating for ‘the once proud cavalry officer’ and after each march Oates slumped helpless on the sledge stripped ‘of his dignity’. They are close to the next depot and Fiennes argues that they could reasonable of expected the dogs with supplies to have come out this far. Meanwhile at One Ton Depot Cherry-Garrard records that he is feeling little anxiety about the polar party but he is concerned about his companion. Dimitri is suffering from the cold and complains af numerous difficulties. The lack of dog food along the depot route meant that the only possibility to head further south would be if they killed some of the dogs for food. Cheery-Garrard has a clear perception, the polar party are not short of food, they don’t need the dogs to get home safely and the dogs must be saved for work next year. He and Dimitri wait.

Scott’s Journal 8th March 1912. Scott writes at lunchtime,’worse and worse in morning; poor Oates’ left foot can never last out, and time over foot gear something awful. Have to wait in night foot gear for nearly an hour before I start changing, and then am generally first to be ready. Wilson’s feet giving trouble now, but this mainly because he gives so much help to others. We did 4 miles this morning and are now 8 miles from the depot, a ridiculously small distance to feel in difficulties, yet on this surface we know we cannot equal half our old marches, and that for that effort we expend nearly double the energy. The great question is, what shall we find at the depot ? If the dogs have visited it we may get along a good distance, but if there is another short allowance of fuel, God help us indeed. We are in a very bad way, I fear, in any case’.

Commentary. Scott ‘fears’ and Cherry-Garrard is experiencing anxiety, how leaders respond in these moments impacts on the end result. The leader has two roles, firstly they must manage their own anxiety and secondly absorb the anxiety of others. The mistake that leaders make is to see anxiety as an enemy rather than as simply information. Anxiety is telling us that something of significance is happening and so make your response significant. The dilemma of course is that as anxiety climbs an individuals ability to think clearly and make decisions on what actions are required may be reduced. Managing anxiety is a key component of leadership. Scott had mentioned many times that the party were in good humour and cheerful. A sense of humour is a wonderful antidote to anxiety. The ability of a leader to break the anxious moment with a comment or action that acknowledges the anxiety and indicates a collective awareness is priceless. It is difficult to understand the light heartedness in the polar party when faced with such grave concerns but previously they had all played a role, their stories and anecdotes all served the purpose of anxiety busting and morale building. Scott may find this difficult as he is anxious by nature and his isolation maybe a result of his understanding of the role as leader to absorb the anxiety for others. It is a sadness of the story that the other mechanism to reduce anxiety is to communicate often and honestly about the position people find themselves in as teams or organisations. Teams are often frustrated when they think that the bosses just don’t get it, this relationship increases anxiety. Scott’s lonely position as leader was common for the age but maybe the cause of increased anxiety in his team and this is perhaps why several of the expedition members diaries question his leadership. The focus on his planning, temper and arrogance may actually be representations of the poor management of anxiety. Out at One Ton Cherry-Garrard maybe suffering anxiety in another way. He maybe worried about what happens if they stay put and also what happens if they head further south, in effect what happens if I do nothing and what happens if a adopt a change. Change is not the only cause of anxiety, stasis can also create worry and concern. This type of anxiety is dealt with by clarity in expectations and information on opportunities. If those are missing then the individual may fill in the gaps for themselves, Cherry-Garrard may well be doing exactly this. While he has orders from Atkinson he has some opportunity to act, but what to do ? The story repeated by so many, that it becomes a little questionable, is that the polar party didn’t need the dogs and they had enough food. But the arrival of Teddy Evan’s in such a terrible condition back at Hutpoint is a game changer. Whatever else went before, this is the moment that was not prepared for but now presents itself and requires a leader to respond. What if Cherry-Garrard allowed himself to imagine all five, he is not aware of the death of PO Evans, of the polar party arriving at One Ton in a condition similar to Teddy Evans, how would he cope. To avoid the anxiety that such a possibility would create he believes the party have good food and don’t need the dogs to get back safely. Atkinson and Cherry-Garrard belive a perspective that allows their anxiety to be managed. Perhaps they are forced into that position by Scott’s previous behaviour. A greater anxiety maybe the fear of Scott’s reaction if he gets back to Cape Evans to find the dogs wasted or killed, what had Scott done previously to possibly create that environment ? The leaders role in managing anxiety is constant, it is the preparation of the team and themselves by their openness, communication, humour and reassurance. Anxiety serves a purpose, it warns us, prepares us and spurs us to act, anxiety has meaning, understanding that is a function of leadership.

About hutpoint

Interested in leadership, teamwork, resistance, perseverence and change. A former senior nurse dedicated to learning from and sharing with other flawed humans.
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