Orders is Orders. Scott has started to count down miles per day against the required average to reach One Ton Depot. Yesterday he calculated they would be 13 miles short of the depot if nothing changed. An accurate prediction that highlighted his understanding, awareness and planning, he also knew the seriousness of their predicament. Bowers has now stopped the meteorological records he had been keeping. As Scott’s journal begins to talk of not making it back and the end being close many of the writers on the subject choose this part of the story to start to look at the causes of the tragedy. Scott’s plan to get to the pole was detailed and had come about as a result of experience and new ideas, it had been formed over years and in detail during hours, days and weeks of work during the dark winter months. But Scott was a military man and he must have known that no plan survives contact with the enemy, the enemy in the Antarctic being the conditions on the ice. His military background would also have taught him about the importance of taking care of his men, morale would be vitally important. Scott communicated his plan through a series of orders. Huntford comments that Scott had left ‘voluminous and intricate orders’ that now ‘contrived to destroy initiative, bind his subordinates and throw responsibility onto others, they were, in the vital parts, impressively phrased and open to misinterpretation’. The action taken with the dogs returns as an example of the confusion and Huntford refers to the orders as ‘contradictory’ Huntford also believes that Scott declined to take his officers into his confidence and with changing leadership at Cape Evans another layer of doubt and confusion is added. Cherry-Garrard came out as far as One Ton and is now on his way back to Hutpoint. During conversations that would take place in the years following the expedition Cherry-Garrard would blame Meares for not heading back south with the dogs and Atkinson would question whether Gerof was malingering at One Ton. Blame seems to be everywhere. Fiennes believes that Scott wanted the dogs to come out as far as the mid barrier depot (beyond One Ton Depot) and that the story of confusion seems to grow in the years after the expedition as survivors discuss events. The lack of deviation from constantly stated positions such as, the dogs were not to be risked, Scott had plenty of provisions and the polar team were not dependent on help to get home is referred to by Fiennes as the ‘orders is orders syndrome’.
Scott’s Journal 12th March 1912. Scott writes, ‘we did 6.9 miles yesterday, under our necessary average. Things are left much the same, Oates not pulling much, and now with hands as well as feet pretty well useless. We did 4 miles this morning in 4 hours 20 min.—we may hope for 3 this afternoon, 7 × 6 = 42. We shall be 47 miles from the depot. I doubt if we can possibly do it. The surface remains awful, the cold intense, and our physical condition running down. God help us! Not a breath of favourable wind for more than a week, and apparently liable to head winds at any moment’.
Commentary. Orders is orders, perhaps it’s not quite as clear cut as that. As Huntford places the blame on Scott’s orders Fiennes leans towards disappointment that other members of the expedition did not use their initiative as the situation changed. The weather was worse than expected and while they did not know about the lack of fuel they were aware of the risk of deterioration on the ice after seeing Teddy Evans. Blame seems also to imply that rationale and conscious decisions were taken. Cherry-Garrard returned from One Ton believing certain truths about the condition of the party, he may have needed to see these as indisputable facts in order to continue to function. He may well have needed to secure these as even stronger truths in the years that followed, especially when he was criticised for not doing more to help the polar party. That is not to say that in these differences of opinion anyone is deliberately concealing the truth and facts. People want their perceptions and actions to be consistent with their belief of the world. The forceful nature of Atkinson and Cherry-Garrards truth that they were obeying Scott’s orders and therefore they did the right thing, is real and powerful for them. For them to challenge that would have been difficult, that their perspective was error ridden would mean their actions were the wrong ones. At a very deep psychological level perhaps they could not entertain such an idea, to do so would be too traumatic for them. Leaders need to be aware of these deep, and possible unconscious, mechanisms at work. They can influence the leader themselves as they convince themselves that truth supports the actions they are taking, they believe even stronger in reality of their perspective to further justify their actions. The same interaction maybe happening within the team, actions are justified because of the teams perception of the external influences. This can lead to poor decisions, silo thinking, defensive reactions and a blame culture. Accepting that there is more than one truth and that reality is a combination of current perspectives is an important leadership function. Excellence in leadership and teamwork is the domain of good questions. An ability to question fundamentals will lead to better, more creative and innovative actions for the leader and the team.