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Ultimately, success does not come down to luck. Instead, Morten Hansen argues that successful leaders share a common set of characteristics. In the early twentieth century, two competing teams of explorers set out on expeditions to be the first humans to reach the South Pole. Hansen argues that the contrast between the leaders of these expeditions, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott, highlights a few important lessons of how a leader should – and should not – act in order to increase their personal effectiveness and find success.

3 Leadership Development Lessons from Polar Explorers

1. “Choose unity before competence.”

In the early twentieth century, the survival of the polar explorers was dependent upon their ability to work together as a unified whole. In today’s workplace, it is very important to have competent – even excellent – people on your team. But to be successful, it is even more important that those people can work together. Hansen points to many examples of modern business leaders who make difficult personnel decisions in order to increase their company’s unity, and thus their business’s success. If you want to increase your personal effectiveness, make sure that your employees are working together as one team.

2. “Channel paranoia.”

The leaders – business and otherwise – that Hansen points to as being the most successful all share the trait of being extremely well-prepared. An optimistic attitude of hoping for the best is not likely to help someone prepare for the worst case scenario. The polar explorers who survived were those who thought extensively about what could go wrong in their expedition and prepared thoroughly for those eventualities. The business leaders who survive tough economic times are those who think long and hard about what could go wrong when times are good, so that they can be prepared with solutions when times are bad. If you want to improve your leadership development, teach your employees to think with a “what if” mindset and plan ahead for the future.

3. “Cultivate a growth mindset.”

Many modern psychologists assert that the people who are the most successful are those who believe that they can improve through hard work. People who expect immediate success without hard work or a steep learning curve are much less likely to succeed. Hansen concurs with this idea that a willingness and a drive to learn is important to personal effectiveness and career success. This played out clearly again in the case of the polar expeditions. The life-long learner who expected an arduous journey that would require great knowledge was the leader who came out ahead – and alive.

Personal Effectiveness Lessons From Polar Explorers


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