LEADERSHIP: Get There And Don’t Die Tryin’

In Great by Choice, Jim Collins tells the story of  Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen, who wanted to be the first to reach the South Pole.  In 1911, the two teams set out on the 1,400 mile journey within a few days of each other.

Not much of a view

For one team the expedition would end in glory, for the other deadly defeat as they lost not only the race for the Pole, but the race back for their lives. It was not just about who would succeed, but who would survive.

The two leaders and their teams were similar in age and experience. What made the difference? Collins calls it ‘The Twenty Mile March.’

This steady progress over time applies in my opinion to not only building a great organisation or planting a church, but to building a great life. If you want to lose a stone or win at life –

So many things are out of our control. But we can always move forward if we aim at building consistency.

Amundsen spent several years preparing, gathering more supplies than necessary, thinking through worst-case scenarios and living with Eskimos to see what they wore and how they moved around in temperatures as low as -50 degrees using dog sleds.

Scott did not pack as many supplies, even though his team was larger.  He chose to rely on intuition more than planning. He relied on modern technology, mechanised sleds (they broke down).

Amundsen and his team planned their course, and decided to travel 15-20 miles each day, no matter the weather and no matter how they felt. When the weather was good and the team felt they could go further faster, he told the team they needed to rest because the next day might be worse. He did this even on a day when a 24 hour push would have got them to the Pole ahead of time. They did 17 miles that day and arrived 34 days ahead of Scott.

Scott’s approach was radically different – he would sometimes travel a lot further and drive his team to exhaustion and then (on a bad day) he didn’t travel at all, staying in the tent and complaining instead. He lead his team according to assessing the conditions rather than following the plan. 

Scott wrote in his journal: “I doubt if any party could travel in such weather.” But when Amundsen faced a similar blizzard he wrote

“It has been an unpleasant day — storm, drift, and frostbite, but we have advanced 13 miles closer to our goal.”

The Norwegian arrived on time, averaging 15.5m a day and according to schedule won the race. 

The demoralised Brits, hampered by worsening weather, poor provisioning (Amundsen put markers so huge on his supplies they were unmissable, Scott did not) injury and frostbite all died en route

Over the years I realise I’ve often been more Scott than Amundsen and I’m grateful for those who have asked me questions and helped me grow in these areas (I married a planner too thank the Lord).

We can’t know everything that’s going to happen but those who are following you deserve a plan, so as we persist toward the goal, doing a little bit on tough days while others are waiting for better conditions, we’ll get there together.

I’ll go outside for a walk now. I may be some time.

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