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The Race to the South Pole: Lessons to Synthesize an Optimal,

Relevant, and Flexible Leadership Model.

By Carlos Mauricio Aguila Cervera

The race for the South Pole cannot be understood without the presence of three great leaders: Robert
Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton, and Roald Amundsen. The final conquest was not because of one man only,
but of the experiences and lessons learned from previous expeditions, as well as, strong leadership skills,
character, and teamwork. The attempt of this paper is to propose an optimal, relevant, and flexible leadership
model which can be used by leaders in extreme situations of this nature; but also for actual leaders who faces
risky decisions in leading high performance work teams. It also examines a leadership framework based on
three theories: (a) autocratic, (b) path-goal, and (c) participative and their relationship with the leaders
profile of Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen. Finally, it is proposed a synthesis approach between the path-goal
and participative leadership theories which can be described as hierarchical-consultative leadership style.

At the beginning of the twentieth century,
great expeditionary nations conquered the toughest
and most extreme goals in the world. The great
British Empire had positions on all fronts: in the
conquest of the North Pole, conquest of Mount
Everest, and of course, the conquest of the South
Pole. This last race would be struggled against
Norwegian expeditions, and there was only one
The conquest of the South Pole was not an
easy task; it required the greatest commitment in the
hardest and radical climatic conditions. The task
was not directed at any person, it demanded the best
of personality, character, and skills of a special
leadership style. The expeditions who tried to
conquer the South Pole must be carefully selected,
the attack plan had to be perfect, and a mistake
could mean death.
The race for the South Pole cannot be
understood without the presence of three great
leaders: Roland Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott,
and Ernest Shackleton. These three explorers staged
the golden age of Antarctic exploration.
This quest provides countless leadership
lessons, so it is important to analyze the profiles of
the three leaders who tried to achieve it. What
elements of leadership could have saved Scott?
What components of leadership Shackleton could
have learned to reach his goal? How this extremely
rough goal was achieved by Amundsen?
This paper presents a synthesis of leadership
theories from the main qualities found in each of the
three leaders of the expeditions to the South Pole.
The attempt is to propose an optimal, relevant, and
flexible leadership model. The proposal can be used
by leaders in extreme situations of this nature; but
also for actual leaders who faces risky decisions in
leading high performance work teams.
As a complementary work, this paper also
examines a leadership framework based on three
theories: (a) autocratic, (b) path-goal, and (c)
participative; and their relationship with the leaders
profile of Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen. Also, a
synthesis approach between the path-goal theory
and the participative theory is also proposed; as an
optimal leadership style for leading South Pole
expeditions. Finally, suggestions for further
investigation are discussed.

Leadership Framework

Autocratic Leadership Theory
Manktelow (1996-2013) considered the
autocratic leadership as an extreme of the
transactional leadership style, which was first
described by Max Weber in 1947 and subsequently
revised in 1981 by Bernard Bass. The transactional
leadership style defines a set of organizational
processes to motivate the followers to achieve any
goal or task (Transactional Leadership Theory,
n.d.). The motivational profile of the transactional
leader involves a system of rewards and
punishments for the follower to obey the
instructions given. If the subordinate acts according
to the request will be rewarded; contrary, will be
punished (Transactional Leadership Theory, n.d.).
According to Lewin, Liippit, and White
(1939), the autocratic style has four main
characteristics: (a) none input from followers, (b)
the leader is the only person who decides, (c) the
leader commands the way to achieve the goal, and
(d) the followers do not have any commitment on
the results. Autocratic leadership style emerges
when the leader has too much power within the
organization, leaving no room for suggestions on
how to perform the task, even if they are for the
benefit of the group. However, the main advantage
of autocratic leadership is the speed on decisions
taken, its efficiency, and implementation
(Manktelow, 1996-2013). One weakness to note is
that this style does not consider followers as self-
motivated, so they must be regularly monitored and
controlled if the leader wants to achieve the goal
(Transactional Leadership Theory, n.d.).
According to Schoel, Bluemke, Mueller, and
Stahlberg (2011) people with low self-esteem seek
strong leadership based on autocratic style. That is
why the autocratic leader achieves goals and
objectives without considering autonomy and
personal development of the followers (Schoel et
al., 2011).
Schoel et al. (2011) considered autocratic
leadership to be more effective where quality
control is required, when the task is clear, and when
the followers commitment is considered low. It
should also be noted that, configuring the
environment has a lot to do with the degree of
submission of the follower to the leader. A good
example could be the automotive industry,
particularly the production line workers.
Finally, an autocratic leader performs
excellently in routine tasks, where he or she defines
the goal to achieve and only monitor the different
ways in which the follower reach it. This style is not
recommended with high performance teams
integrated with experts and other leaders (Gupta,

Path-Goal Leadership Theory
The path-goal leadership theory belongs to
the contingency theories classification. This model
describes three components that determine how to
lead a team or task: (a) followers personality, (b)
profile of the leader, and (c) nature of the task.
("Contingency theories," 2010-2013). Such theory
analyze each event as unique and unrepeatable; so
the leader must understand how these components
interacts in a particular event with the purpose to
adapt his, or her, response to the follower character.
This classification is called contingency
because the leader should take necessary
precautions contingencies before starting the
task execution; in this way, will be a much more
efficient leader and will strengthen his, or her,
position. However, such theories have some
disadvantages; for example, the difficulty to
identify situations as separated events, which may
be an enormous effort that exceeds the execution of
the task itself ("Contingency theories," 2010-2013).
House framed the path-goal theory in 1971
within the category of contingency and transactional
theories. This theory clarifies the responsibility of
the leader to manage, direct and define the goal to
achieve, the only consideration is the way it is done
("Path-Goal theory," 2010-2013).
According to Stinson and Johnson (1975),
the path-goal theory holds two propositions: (a)
strategic role of the leader is to increase the
psychological state of his followers providing
coaching, guidance or support; and (b) the situation
settles the behavior of the leader. Additionally, two
variables may configure leaders behavior: (a)
characteristics of subordinates, like the personality
or temperament; and (b) environmental factors, like
economic conditions, technology, or organizational
culture (Stinson & Johnson, 1975).
According to Schriesheim and Von Glinow
(1977), the path-goal theory states that, the lower
the complexity of the task, the stronger the relation
between directive behavior by the leader and the
subordinate satisfaction. That is why, in a routine
task, the follower participation is considered low.
As expressed by Robert House (1971), the
main role of the path-goal leader is to find better
ways to increase the rewards of subordinates so they
could reach substantial achievements. It is also
leaders responsibility, to make clearer ways to
achieve those rewards with fewer obstacles; as a
result, the opportunities for subordinates to achieve
these rewards will increase, and, therefore, they will
achieve the desired results.

Participative Leadership Theory
Chester I. Barnard suggested the study of
participative leadership in his book The Functions
of the Executive, where he collected eight lectures
given at the Lowell Institute in Boston in 1937
(Huang, Iun, Liu, & Gong, 2010). Barnard (1962)
also argues that organizations are complex
communication systems where each person
represents a connection point; so, the final
responsibility of the leader is to manage this
organizational network, and encourage, or motivate,
each connection point to take part.
Participative leader is the one who makes
the final decision, but he, or she, tends to involve
their followers in the process (Manktelow, 1996-
2013). The participative leader is characterized by
including a transformational charismatic profile;
however, near the time of decision making, the
leader assumes his authority position to watch and
control the fulfillment of the task. According to
Sashkin (1976), there is debate about followers
participation in leadership exercise; could be seen
on one side, as an act of manipulation to perform
certain behaviors, or, an act of benevolent
Additionally, Huang, et al. (2010) argued
that participative leadership can be understood from
two theoretical models: (a) motivational model and
(b) exchange based model. The motivational model
states that followers participation in decision
making is the main reason of job satisfaction, which
eventually results in ideal performance. On the
other hand, exchange based model proclaims that,
because of followers participation in decision-
making, they will develop broad levels of self-
confidence and commitment to increase
performance; that is how the exchange is done.
Further, motivational model is effective in directive
and middle management positions; however, the
exchange based model is valuable in positions
without any subordinates (Huang et al., 2010).
Work teams led by participative leaders tend
to high job satisfaction on the followers and
therefore, are productive. However, it takes time for
the team to configure itself and understand the
participation level the leader needs (Manktelow,
1996-2013). Finally, the main advantage of
participative leadership is that it develops, in the
follower, extra-role work behaviors: such as sense
of belonging to the organization; as a result,
subordinates are strongly committed to any task.

Leadership Framework Contrast and
As discussed above, there is no right or
wrong leadership style, but the effectiveness and
efficiency in its exercise depends on three
components: (a) nature of the task, (b) team
configuration, and (c) leader personality
("Contingency theories," 2010-2013). Together,
these three components, settle which leadership
style to use.
Consequently, the autocratic style is
effective in situations where participation and
followers creativity are not required. If followers
participation is considered valuable, participative
and path-goal styles are effective.
For the autocratic leader, achieving the goal
is considered the only purpose; on the other hand,
for the path-goal leader, the goal is equally
important to achieve the goal and the way to do it.
Additionally, for the participative leader, to achieve
the goal is just as importantly as followers
involvement. An important comparison is: while
autocratic leader requires low participation in the
decision-making, the participative leader is the
opposite: the greater the participation, the greater
the effectiveness. Finally, an autocratic leader is
effective in short-term assignments with clearly
defined objectives; on the other side, participative
and path-goal leadership styles are effective when it
is required to involve followers, a goal to be
clarified, and there is enough time for it.
Worth mentioning, according to Hann
(2013), the new generations of employees, require a
much more participative leadership style, a model
without hierarchy or barriers, where the entire
organization work collaboratively in achieving the
goal. The new generation of followers does not
clearly see the exercise of following orders; they
prefer to engage in problem solving teams (Hann,

Digging Deeper on the Leadership Style of
Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton
It is impossible to understand the conquest
of the South Pole without the names of Roald
Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott, and Ernest
Shackleton; three historic figures with three
leadership lessons.

Robert Falcon Scott: Win or Die Trying
He was a Royal Navy officer and a strong
character explorer who led two expeditions to
conquest the South Pole. With perseverance,
determination, and obstinacy, he started out two
expeditions to the South Pole. Until the last moment
of his death, he stressed his nationalism and pride
for the British Empire.
According to Collins and Hansen (2013), he
would sometimes drive his team to exhaustion on
good days and then sit in his tent and complain
about the weather on bad days (p. 7). His attention
was on the short-term, in the urgent, not in the
important. His obstinacy to win the race to the
South Pole, poor planning skills, short-term vision,
and lack of integration of the crew, were perhaps
the elements that led to failure both expeditions he
commanded. Scott dies on March 29, 1912 during
his second expedition; with the clear consciousness
of having lost the race in the hands of Amundsen.
Despite his failure, the clarity with which he
exercised his leadership and authority are
highlighted. In extreme expeditions of this nature,
clear goals, great skills of persistence, and
discipline are skills needed to achieve the task.

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton: A Selfless Hero
He was a polar explorer who led three
British expeditions to the South Pole and a
merchant marine who served as third officer in the
Discovery expedition under Robert Falcon Scott
command. Beside their attempts to conquer the
South Pole, Shackleton also tried to cross from
ocean to ocean the Antarctic continent.
Shackleton's leadership profile is defined as
a strong and determined character, empathic and
supportive. Always open to learn, he could
capitalize the experience of his first failure in the
Discovery expedition, devoting more effort and
time in planning his own expedition.
From the beginning, he dedicated special
time choosing his crew and selecting the right men
for the exact job. He also tried to understand the
leadership style that he would need with the crew
and the incentives or rewards he should use on
achieving their goal.
His talent to connect with his followers and
his ability to discover their talents were basic
components of his path-goal leadership profile. His
humanitarian profile was the reason he preferred to
save his men and fail the quest, to perish in the
attempt. This significant act was what earned him
knighted by King Edward VII on his return home.
Shackleton's ability to configure the Nimrod
expedition, learning from previous experiences and
failures, his ability to integrate his crew without
losing authority, and leading by example in critical
and extreme situations, are characteristic of path-
goal leadership style.

Roald Amundsen: The Last of the Vikings
The South Pole was conquered by
Norwegian Roald Amundsen on January 25, 1912.
His leadership profile has many characteristics of
path-goal leadership theory, such as authority on
clarifying the goal, and planning and preparation of
the expedition which also provided confidence for
the entire crew. His personality was a combination
of strong and disciplined character, but also grateful
and honorable.
According to Boynton and Fischer (2007),
Amundsens crew was handpicked, he had an all-
star player at each position (p. 13). He knew how
to reward his crew, taking them into account for
important innovations of the expedition. In this
way, he provided everything for the team to achieve
its mission. True, the leadership profile of
Amundsen matches both the path-goal and
participative style models.
Contrary to Scott, he focused on what is
important not merely on urgent issues. To integrate
his crew, he searched abilities to interact well with
other crew members and personalities suited for
extreme expeditions. He planned the right approach
for the final attack days, with a smaller group and
more tons of supplies. As Collins and Hansen stated
(2013), he conquered the South Pole because he
adhered to a rule of consistent progress.
According to Sniderman (2012), Amundsen
achieved his goal through obsession with planning
and innovation. He lived always focused on
learning (Alroth, 2009), an example would be, the
constants trials and errors on improving snow-
googles' innovations. He trusted the talents of the
crew and encouraged them to continuous innovation
to improve equipment.

A Synthesis Approach: Path-goal and
Participative Leadership Theories Combined
The race for the South Pole was not an easy
quest; expeditions of this nature require special
leadership personalities and skills. The deadly
combination of extreme temperatures, as well as
enormous distances in extreme conditions
configures a particular leadership profile which is
worth learning and mastering.
The Golden Age of Antarctic exploration in
the early 20th century has left us many lessons of
leadership that justify the proposal of a new model.
This proposal will help to understand the difficulty
and nature of such expeditions and understand their
leaders profiles.
Such expeditions require specific personality
traits to overcome the obstacles faced, so the
necessary leadership profile cannot be an
authoritarian style, on the contrary, must be flexible
and adaptable. To overcome these challenges
requires people with determination, with strong and
disciplined character, but also with great teamwork
skills, motivation and empathy. The great
conquerors of the last frontiers - Everest, North
Pole, South Pole, the moon, among others - agrees
the accomplishment was not the result of oneself,
but the sum of wills of the whole team (Holliday,
A synthesis approach between the path-goal
and participative leadership theories, described as
hierarchical-consultative leadership style, is
proposed. This model would be effective in short-
range tasks in which the goal is defined clearly, and
the way to achieve it is clarified through a
successful and relevant planning exercise (Path-
Goal theory, 2010-2013).
An expedition of this nature requires
determination and clarity to define the goal to
achieve; this is considered a characteristic of the
path-goal theory (Path-Goal theory, 2010-2013).
Similarly, this quest requires strong bonds of
friendship, motivation, and teamwork to allow the
sum of efforts in benefit of the team and, therefore,
to achieve the goal.
The hierarchical-consultative style is
complemented by the ability of the participative
leader to integrate the opinions of their followers;
achieving greater commitment and job satisfaction
(Manktelow, 1996-2013). Although a hierarchical-
consultative leader will make the final decision, he
invites his subordinates to contribute in the process;
which is an important feature of participative
leadership style (Bhatti, Murta Maitlo, Shaikh,
Hashmi, & Shaikh, 2012).
The hierarchical-consultative model is
considered optimal because it is composed of the
best features of the path-goal and participative style.
On one hand, this model integrates the ability to
clarify the path through guidance, support, or
coaching. It also incorporates the ability to integrate
the followers contributions and a strong focus on
the goal to achieve; all these constitute path-goal
characteristics (Stinson & Johnson, 1975). Further,
the model also integrates the ability to engage
followers and the motivation to achieve goals. Also,
the leader ability to involve followers in the
processes of decision making (Zhang, Wang, &
Fleenor, 2011); all these considered characteristics
of the participative style.
The hierarchical-consultative model is
relevant, because proposes an innovative scheme to
set up the basis of new leadership models, where
authority and followers involvement in decision
making plays an important role (Authority is
important, n.d.). In the same way, all opportunity
areas presented by the three South Pole leaders
could be complemented by the hierarchical-
consultative model.
This model highlights two important stages
in achieving the goals; first, the stage of planning
with consideration of followers opinions. In this
stage, creativity and innovation plays a major role.
The second stage is about implementation and
control of the task. At this stage the team
contributions are small, and the main focus is on
executing the plan. Both stages highlight the
flexibility of the hierarchical-consultative model.
In a word, the fundamental basis of all
leadership theories is the exchange between two
parties: the leader and follower (Huang et al., 2010).
This exchange could be, motivation for a
determinate behavior; similarly, a financial reward
for a task to be done. The hierarchical-consultative
model highlights this principle through an emphasis
in motivation and followers engagement (Huang et
al., 2010). That is why this model is considered
functional for extreme expeditions like the South
Pole Race as for critical situations in the present-
day world.

A comprehensive analysis of three different
theories of leadership is presented. Also, an analysis
of the main characteristic of three major expeditions
of the race for the South Pole; ending with the
proposal of an optimal, relevant and flexible
leadership model called hierarchical-consultative.
The study of leadership in critical situations
such as extreme expeditions can be considered a
relevant practice because highlights aspects that in
normal situations would not be obvious. It is
considered relevant to fulfill this proposal on
present-day situations, in organizations where it is
required to clarify the chain of command. Further
Investigations should focus on proving the viability
and effectiveness of the proposed model.


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