The concept of “leadership” has a lot of currency these days, addressed in academic disciplines and institutes, and in countless corporate trainings and seminars. Regardless of the enterprise, there has to be some place in any management hierarchy that is indisputably the pinnacle, occupied by a person who is unquestionably recognized, “the Boss.”
But that role is not necessarily one that any person can be molded to fill. Yes, there are techniques and characteristics that can be identified and reinforced, but there has to be something more, something that is inherent in a person, rather than a position.
In the canon of Antarctic exploration, there are those who envisioned, created, and completed the vast enterprises of these expeditions—Scott, Shackleton, Mawson, Amundsen, and others less well-known—who are taken for their leaders. Their names have achieved a justly warranted fame that outshines that of many of their subordinates, whose own signal accomplishments go mostly unheralded.
Who led the smaller, isolated field parties adrift in the vast Antarctic snowfields, many hundreds of miles from the relative security of the base huts? Lt. Michael Barne was (like almost everyone else in the Discovery Expedition’s 1901-1904 complement) a total novice at exploring, but he led his handful of men out into the Barrier hinterlands twice, and brought them safely home with new discoveries. When Scott’s northern party were left to their own devices over the austral winter of 1912, it was Victor Campbell who provided a strong center around which his small field party coalesced and survived. It was Frank Wild who kept the marooned survivors of Endurance’s shipwreck alive in 1916 with a glimmer of hope that Shackleton would return to save them. On the other side of the continent, Ernest Joyce stepped into a role beyond his training when Aeneas Mackintosh was no longer strong enough to lead.
The exploration of Antarctica during the Heroic Era, and in every era afterwards, provides many more examples of those whose leadership was more a result of who they were, than of what they had learned.