Book Talk: Leadership in the world's most extreme workplace

Wed Feb 5, 2014 7:01pm EST
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By Pauline Askin

SYDNEY (Reuters) - At age 34, Rachael Robertson accepted the biggest challenge of her life: to lead a large, 12-month expedition in Antarctica. Two months on, she found herself having to ask the team of 120 how they managed to get through a year's supply of condoms in just eight weeks.

Robertson, a former chief ranger for the national parks service in Australia's Victoria state, spoke to Reuters about her book "Leading on the Edge" and how she developed a unique style of leadership using a technique called "no triangles".

She also recounted some of the funnier moments in Antarctica, including an elephant seal breaking wind during a minute's silence on Anzac Day, a solemn time to remember Australians and New Zealanders who died in wars and conflicts.

Q: Many people have written about their experience in the frozen south - what's different about your story?

A: Mine is a leadership book, it's not a memoir. It's based on my journals. I've taken what I learned and applied it to any workplace anywhere in the world. Antarctica is traditionally a very "blokey" - almost a "command and control" and military - style where what happens on station stays on station.

I went down with a different mindset, i.e. I'm going to take a corporate leadership mindset, like zero tolerance for bullying or harassing and coaching my people on how to communicate with each other.

Q: Is leading a team in Antarctica any different to leading a team in the corporate world?

A: You've got to deal with it immediately and you've got to do it on your own. You can't have a meeting with Human Resources and talk about it for a few days. It's such a pressure cooker environment, you can't ignore things. That's the main difference.   Continued...