In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell tells the story of two groups of explorers determined to be the first to reach the South Pole in the early 1900’s. One group was led by a Norwegian by the name of Roald Amundsen. Amundsen was a notorious planner. He studied, charted, and learned from experts in the region.
Maxwell describes his “forethought and attention to detail” as “incredible.” He worked with the right people, used the right tools, and anticipated every contingency. Amundsen’s planning paid off—the only setback his team experienced on its trip to the South Pole and back was an infected tooth one man had to have extracted.
Amundsen’s competitor was a British naval officer by the name of Robert Falcon Scott. Scott was over-confident, and his plan failed when challenges hit. Where Amundsen’s group used dogsleds, a method he learned from the local Eskimos, Scott’s group used motorized sledges and ponies.
The engines in the sledges froze up, as did the ponies, all of which had to be tragically put down early in the trip. The boots Scott provided to his team led to gangrene, the clothes allowed frostbite, and the goggles he supplied led to snow blindness for the entire team. Maxwell’s conclusion that Scott hadn’t given sufficient attention to his team’s equipment seems to be an understatement.
To make matters worse, the food and water supplies available to Scott’s team were always low. This problem was exacerbated by his last minute decision to add a fifth man to the expedition despite the fact that his plan was designed for a team of four. Somehow, despite Scott’s grossly inadequate planning, he and his team made it to the South Pole. However, they were devastated to find the Norwegian flag and a note from Amundsen as proof that they were beaten to their goal by almost a month.
Scott’s inability to plan ahead finally caught up with his team during the return trip home. Not one of them survived. Their story lives on only because Scott spent his last hours recording their plight in his journal.
Maxwell sums up the difference between Amundsen and Scott as one of leadership. Leaders, he teaches, “see the whole trip in their minds before they leave the dock.” Leaders “have a vision for their destination, they understand what it will take to get there, they know who they’ll need on the team to be successful, and they recognize the obstacles long before they appear on the horizon.”
I am grateful that most of us will never encounter the type of life and death decisions faced by Amundsen and Scott. But deficiencies in “forethought and attention to detail” can still have devastating consequences in the world in which we live.
Some of the biggest long-term decisions we will make in our role as leaders of our families involve our plan for getting our assets into the hands of the right people in the right way when we’re gone. Those following in Scott’s path will be overconfident and shortsighted, and they will lead their families into disaster. Those following in Amundsen’s path will do their homework. They’ll talk to experts in the field. They’ll use the right tools in the right way, and they’ll plan for every contingency.
A family leader with foresight will plan for the possibility that one day he or she may be unable to manage things as well as before, so a strong power of attorney and healthcare documents prepared by an experienced attorney will be essential tools for the journey.
A family leader will anticipate that health issues late in life are highly probable and extremely expensive; plans for the highest quality of care with the most options (without breaking the bank) will never be put off. A family leader who pays attention to detail will never lead his or her family into probate court and will never leave family members unprotected—a trust will often be the right direction to meet these goals.
Like Amundsen, a smart leader will work with experts who know the lay of the land. Amundsen didn’t make assumptions and hope for the best, and you shouldn’t either. Starting down the right path will literally cost you nothing more than an hour of your time, but you’ll want to spend that hour with the right people.