wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
search bar left
search bar right

Robert Scott - Success and LeadershipRobert Scott - Success and Leadership


Robert Scott (1868-1912)


English explorer (pictured right), who died with his men in a failed attempt to beat the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen to the South Pole in 1912.

A hero until criticized for his incompetence in a 1979 biography, but the English explorer, Ranulph Fiennes, pictured right below, has stoutly defended his reputation in his biography, Captain Scott (2003) .

 Robert Scott - Success and Leadership

What do we learn from his failure?


1. Concentrating on one aim

Amundsen had only one aim: to get to the South Pole as quickly as possible.

But Captain Scott’s expedition was also concerned with scientific observations (particularly geological and meteorological)

So Scott and his team had to pull 14 kg of rocks on their sledges.

 Robert Scott - Success and Leadership

2. Preparation and planning

Amundsen’s (pictured right) better ship and his sole aim of getting to the Pole (see point 1), meant he could land 100 km south of Scott’s base camp, making his route much shorter.

But Scott did make mistakes:

  • taking an extra man to the Pole
  • using men to pull the sledges (Amundsen brilliantly used dogs - see point 3).
  • not taking enough high fat foods for energy.


3. Knowledge is power


  • had more knowledge of Arctic conditions.

  • was much better than Scott at handling husky dogs (vital for transporting supplies).


4. Triumph of character and the human spiritRobert Scott - Success and Leadership

Scott and his men failed, but died with honour.

The injured Lieutenant Oates (pictured right c1911) sacrificed his life by stepping out into the blizzard, saying

“I’m going outside and maybe sometime”.

The final lines of Scott’s diary read:

“Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions, who would have stirred the heart of every Englishman”.


5. Failure hurts

Failure to reach the Pole first badly affected the spirit and determination of Scott’s team.

Perhaps he should have turned back before reaching the Pole, knowing that:

  • Amundsen had almost certainly beaten him.
  • the blizzard season was about to start.

 Robert Scott - Success and Leadership

6. Importance of luck

A bad four day blizzard stopped Scott’s team from reaching the next supply depot, only 11 miles (20km) from where they died.

They are pictured right two months before they died (Scott is standing in the middle).

Scott was hit by the worst Antarctic weather for centuries, which made pulling their sledges much harder.


7. Leadership

Amundsen might have won the race but Scott was also a great leader because of his:

 Robert Scott - Success and Leadership

a) integrity

Scott (pictured right writing his diary during the South Pole expedition in 1911) had a strong sense of right and justice.


b) kindness

  • compassionate and empathetic.
  • never asked anyone to do something he wouldn’t do himself.
  • always listening to his men.
  • quick and generous in praise.


c) optimism

  • never defeatist.
  • always cheerful.

 Robert Scott - Success and Leadership

d) energy

Scott (pictured right c1900) drove himself and his men to superhuman effort.


Key quotes on death and success

But take comfort that I die at peace with the world and myself – not afraid.

I regret only for the women we leave behind.

Things have come out against us. We have no cause for complaint.

We are very near the end but have not and will not lose our good cheer.

For God’s sake look after our people (last diary entry).


Free Newsletter
Enter your name and e-mail address to receive our free newsletter with analysis of business issues and new business books