Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Teammates & Leadership

Here's an entry I wrote when I first finished Part 1 (but forgot to post). Like Nicole, I wanted to write while it was still fresh.

I'm impressed with the team dynamics within the Endurance expedition during the months of darkness. Compared to some of the other narratives we've read this semester, Shackleton's group is remarkable in their group relations and ability to stay positive and work together despite unimaginable weather. "The gathering darkness and the unpredictable weather limited their activities to an ever-constricting area around the ship...But instead of getting on each other's nerves, the entire party seemed to become more close-knit" (42). Some of the other narratives we've read did not have the same strength in team dynamics. Tabor's Forever on the Mountain details how poor team relations due to leadership conflicts and a group that didn't all know each other beforehand contributed to the tragedies on that expedition. Herzog focused primarily on himself and not on his fellow climbers (at least in his writing). Blum spent a significant portion of her Annapurna account discussing group dynamics and how she hand-selected all of the members of her expedition. Shackleton similarly chose most of the members of his expedition (besides the stowaway), but his selection method was much briefer and instinctive than Blum's careful process. Despite this, Shackleton's group proved their strength by not falling apart during the dark Antarctic winter as so many others have done in the same drastic circumstances; rather, they became closer. Even though the voyagers didn't know each other before they set out on their trip, the group members became close despite the harsh environment. "There was very little depression on board the Endurance. The coming of the polar night somehow drew the men closer together" (38).

This in part reflects Shackleton's capabilities as a leader. Lansing describes how Shackleton mediated conflict when problems arose and also joined in on humor; I think that this balance between acting in an authoritative role and allowing himself to have fun with his crew helped him earn the respect of the others on the expedition. Leaders are critical for team building, and I believe Shackleton's "genuine leadership" (13) brought the team together. To go back to our broad question of heroes in adventures, does being an effective and important leader make one a hero? (and yes, I do consider this experience to be an adventure! Shackleton and his team had no real economic or nationalistic motives behind their expedition besides to be the first to cross the continent, it was more for the adventure: "[the] volunteers were motivated solely by the spirit of adventure" (15)).

1 comment:

  1. I want to respond briefly to your discussion of the striking solidarity within Shackleton's team, and how the experience on the ice actually drew the team together and strengthened their relationship. I think an integral part of this, and reason for it, is the 3 month trip across the Atlantic to South America that most of the crew made under Worsley while Shackleton was finishing up arrangements in Europe. That is little spoken of in Lansing's book, but I think it must have given the crew a chance to become acquainted with one another in a minimal-stress work environment. They were not fighting for their lives, but instead working with each other, discovering quirks and annoyances and personalities and how to reconcile them. They were required to work together to achieve their goal, and in doing so were able to build themselves together as a team before they became trapped in the ice. So essentially, I think Shackleton's team adventured as friends on a team instead of merely as accomplished acquaintances. I'll bet this was a deciding factor in the extremely unlikely and impressive result - everyone survived.