Sunday, March 31, 2013

Contrasting leadership styles

Throughout the semester we’ve read about expeditions in which the expedition leader seems to successfully navigate the complexities of group dynamics. While Herzog only briefly describes how he goes about interacting with the rest of his group, Blum recounts the difficulties she faced while learning to lead this particular group. Bancroft and Arensen also depicted their partnership as successful, able to work through the difficulties that arose while crossing Antarctica. After reading all of these accounts of expeditions that were, for the most part, successful in regards to the group dynamics component, I was surprised to read about the difficulties that this Denali expedition faced regarding this particular issue.

From the beginning of the text, the fact that this expedition was unable to come together as a team was apparent. When even mediocre tasks such as cooking dinner become an ordeal, (Walt Taylor is quoted as saying “No one even opens cans with gusto around here” (Tabor 73)), goals of reaching Denali’s summit seem even more out of reach. I found the sections regarding Joe Wilcox’s difficulty managing the group dynamics to be one of the most compelling aspects of the narrative. Wilcox seems rather inflexible, especially when dealing with managing group dynamics. In the group meetings that Tabor describes, Wilcox is depicted as maintaining a rather authoritative air, and does not seem to change how he approaches members of his expedition even when his tactics to instigate change were not effective.

When reading about the different perspectives of these group meetings, I was reminded of Blum’s descriptions about how she continued to learn about her role on her expedition and adapt to the needs and expectations of the group. In contrast, after reading Tabor’s account I did not have the impression that Wilcox was able to adapt to the needs of parts of his group, and that amplified his role in the group into what he describes as a “lonely position.” I think that description highlights a difference between Blum and Wilcox’s flexibility regarding their leadership styles. Eventually Blum created the sense of the expedition being a cohesive unit, while Wilcox’s expedition seems to remain two separate groups.  

On another note, one part of the narrative that bothered me was the way in which Tabor ended the chapters describing the build up to the tragedy. By including sweeping statements like “But even experts err, and appearances are most famous for their deceipt” (47), “Unfortunately, bubbles of ice, with their sharp edges and frozen cores, do not succumb easily”(75), and “As the men go higher, the rifts between them, like the crevasse fields they are about to enter, will only increase in number and hazard” (83), Tabor constantly reminds readers that this expedition does not end well. While this may be an effective way to maintain reader’s interest, I found myself rolling my eyes as I turned the page. I will say, however, that these types of sentences at the end of the chapters leading up to the accident did help create a sort of continuity in the narrative. I found the ending chapters of the book to be quite choppy – they did not seem to build off one another at all and seemed to instead just be a compilation of many different components of the aftermath of the incident. 

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