In October, 1911 two teams led by two experienced explorers lined up on the coast of Antarctica with the same goal: To be the first humans in history to reach the South Pole.
Both were similar in age and experience. They departed the coast within days of each other.
Amundsen and his team got there first.
Scott and his team arrived 34 days later.
Amundsen made it all the way back to his base camp on the precise day he had logged it in his planning journal.
Tragically, Scott and every member of his team perished, only eleven miles from a supply depot.
In the 100+ years since this amazing race, historians have studied the differences between these two explorers, focusing specifically on their leadership behaviors.
One of the most glaring differences they found is that Scott tended to rely on big, creative bets and bold moves while Amundsen valued intense, almost fanatical discipline and consistency. The most obvious example of this difference could be found in their respective travel plans.
Amundsen committed to traveling no more than 20 miles per day regardless of conditions.
Scott, by contrast, chose a more erratic pattern, stopping for days when conditions were bad then pushing his men many more miles than Amundsen’s team to make up for lost time when the weather improved, causing sickness and reducing morale.
Late in their journey, as Amundsen closed to within 45 miles of the pole, conditions were favorable. His team realized they could make it and secure victory with one final breathtaking push to their destination.
They had no idea where Scott was. With no means of tracking his position, for all they knew, he could have been right on top of them. The team therefore urged Amundsen to get to the pole in one final, relentless 45 mile push.
But Amundsen refused.
Instead, he went 17 miles and stopped, reasoning that if they reached the pole in one long drive and then a big unexpected storm left them exhausted and overstretched, they may never make it back.
Thanks to Jim Collins‘ highly acclaimed book, Great By Choice, which uses the story of this historic race to explore three compelling traits shared by an elite group of high performance companies, the 20 Mile March has come to exemplify trait #1 — how consistent, disciplined action wins out over lofty goals, flashy initiatives, and big bets.
Over the next few posts, I will explore how to apply the powerful metaphor of the 20 Mile March to build your personal brand, strengthen your leadership, and grow in every area of your life.
Question: Can you think of a “20 Mile March” that would have a disproportionate impact on your career or your personal life?