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Extreme leadership

Can you be an extreme leader?

Last year, I attended a webinar by Boris Groysberg. He is a professor of business administration in the Organisational Behaviour unit at Harvard Business School.

The topic discussed was extreme leadership using the race between the explorers the British Robert Scott and the Norwegian Roald Amundsen on the conquer of the South Pole. Boris talked about strategy, people and team, and execution used by these two great explorers and how these impacted their leadership style to lead their teams to make the 2,575 km, 2.7 km elevation in a 4 to 5-month journey to conquer the pole and return to base camp. Amundsen won the race, and, unfortunately, Scott and his team lost their lives only 20 km from the last depot before their base camp at Hut Point (Antarctic Plateau).

Extreme Leadership Lessons

It was a fascinating, inspiring and motivating session. Herewith are the key learnings of the session:

  1. They were two exceptional leaders with two different styles. Scott used hierarchical leadership, and Amundsen used extreme leadership.
  2. Extreme leadership is needed in extreme conditions. 
  3. Extreme leadership impacts people and team, strategy and execution.
  4. Strategy. You use one method only, “all-in” or “my way or the highway” type of message. Be focused and be extremely good at saying no to distractions
  5. Team and people. You build a strong team, a mentally strong one, and deep expertise. Be solid and severe in performance management.
  6. Execution. You have to be fanatical about discipline and make it personal, do not be compensation driven; instead, be goal and mission-driven.

In my opinion, most probably, we can summarise extreme leadership as being fanatical about execution. It drives us to avoid distractions and say no when we have to.

Edward Adrian WilsonRobert Falcon ScottLawrence OatesHenry Robertson Bowers and Edgar Evans at the South Pole
Bring it all together.

Although Amundsen conquered the South Pole on 14 December 1911, five weeks earlier than Scott, it did not make him a better leader. They were both exceptional leaders with different approaches and styles.

Amundsen used extreme leadership, which is needed when you have severe conditions, adapting to conditions while being willing to abort when they are not right. It would be best to be mission-driven, consistent, and obsessed with where you go while being extremely good at saying no. Scott used formal, conventional and hierarchical leadership styles. He was a product of his time and his military background, and this is what the English establishment demanded this style of anyone who was leading an official British mission.

Do you think 2022 and beyond is when we need to use extreme leadership principles to succeed? How do you see it? Are you extremely good at saying no and being fanatical about execution?

Let me know in the comments below.

DISCLAIMERThe views and opinions expressed in this newsletter/blog are those of the author, and they are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organisation, company, individual or anyone or anything.

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