Scott 100 Day 132 13th March 1912 : Swallow and Die

Swallow and Die. With a strong wind from the north and temperatures of -40 they stayed in their tent for most of the day. Fiennes describes the scene as proud men, concerned about their impact on the others and steadfastly determined to do the right thing. They now have the opium tablets and could take a painless exit. But Fiennes asks us to understand a different culture and expectation. These men still go outside to defecate and the thought of slowly watching each other die must have been beyond them, dying  outside or on the march was the only option. The suffering they must have experienced is beyond imagination and the deep and constant agony of Oates must have been unbearable for him and the others. Huntford and others, including Smith, have been consistent in their criticism of Scott, his poor planning, ridged orders, temperament and secrecy all seem to condemn Scott. When on the ice Amundsen is reported to have said. ‘I give you complete freedom of action’, to those left behind it asks for a comparison to Scott’s style. Amundsen and Scott are not different because of the approach to dogs or language, they come from very different backgrounds, tradition and cultures. Could Scott rely on loyalty or affection to motivate those at Cape Evans to take further action. Huntford believes not, and uses the exchange between Griffith Taylor and Debenham to highlight why. Griffith Taylor is leaving in the Terra Nova and comments, ‘if the pole is won I believe you will have a pleasant winter, if not, God help you”, the implication being that they will be spending winter with a difficult Scott.

Scott’s Journal 13th March 1912. NO ENTRY

Commentary. The comments from Amundsen and Griffith Taylor are there to highlight a position very common for modern leaders. The freedom to act on your initiative or the control that generates relentless compliance. The example within Scott’s story is also supposed to indicate that one is the result of good leadership and the other poor leadership. In daily organisational function both actions are required, the art of leadership is to know when to use which technique and with whom over what issue or action. It could be argued that the function of compliance to a predetermined plan is the realm of management not leadership. The distinction is valid but its practical application is limited as organisations do not recruit managers who manage and leaders who lead they recruit employees who often need to function in both arenas. Therefore developing management skills in your leaders and leadership skills in your managers is an essential organisational function. The men on the ice are showing exceptional courage as we look on 100 years later. But in the context of the day their action may not have been so very much out of the ordinary. Heroic failure had served the British Empire well and it could be argued it had served it better than methodical planned and well executed success. The previous 100 years had seen more than one British hero die in what could be called failure of the mission but had created success of the brand. The British Explorer was a risk taker without complaint and that was simply what the establishment of Empire expected. The men in the tent, freezing on the ice are officer class and their tradition was exactly that, risk all, never complain and do your duty. The courage of modern organisational leadership has less of a physical component but does present a moral challenge. The impact that organisational culture has on the leader is just as powerful as the culture and expectation that Scott is exposed to. What is expected of leaders in organisations is dependent on the established way of doing things. There is a sense that Scott knew his position and what was expected of him in his world and he saw no reason to challenge it. The leader who challenges the culture within organisations takes risks. The British Empire produced the type of explorer it did for a reason, they served a purpose. It may not have been considered, planned or appreciated at the time put they appeared because Empire was designed to create them. Organisational culture exists for a purpose, the way the organisation works and functions is a result of its need to create a series of actions and behaviours which serve it. Leaders would follow Scott and they would change the nature and culture of the society they existed in, but it could be argued it took great events to provoke that shift, developing industry, the first world war and a society that expected more. What would be the organisational equivalent of such events ?

About hutpoint

Interested in leadership, teamwork, resistance, perseverence and change. A former senior nurse dedicated to learning from and sharing with other flawed humans.
This entry was posted in bowers, evans, oates, scott, Uncategorized, wilson and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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