Magga Dan at the ice edge Fuchs and Hillary at the South Pole Fuchs at Scott Base Sir Vivian Fuchs


What makes a great leader?

“It was during those early Antarctic days that I quickly discovered Sir Vivian's decisiveness and determination. Having played the game of chess with Nature, and worked out all the appropriate ‘moves’, he quickly decided exactly how a programme should be pursued, and then carried it out precisely to the letter - and to success. He often said to me ‘There's no such thing as good luck, it's always good planning and management’ - what more can be said!”

R. J. Adie, in A Time to Speak

In an harsh, unforgiving environment such as Antarctica, decisions must often be made quickly and there is no opportunity to try again. So a leader must be confident, trusting of his team and equipment, and remain calm in the face of adversity. Many of the men who worked with Sir Vivian Fuchs in the Antarctic, describe him as just such a man. George Lowe, one of the twelve men who crossed the Antarctic continent with Fuchs in 1958, described him as having “absolute, unshaking and unshakeable confidence in himself ...”.

Fuchs was interested in the concept of leadership. He was often asked about it and even published several short appers on the subject. In an essay on Human Endurance, he wrote:

“I find it difficult to speak about leadership ... I would say that men must have confidence in the leader and it is a good thing if they like him personally. They must have confidence that he will not regard any small mistake, or something minor which goes wrong, as of great importance. They must know that, if trouble comes, he will be resourceful rather than rattled. They must feel that he tries to understand them, and that he will settle their problems impartially ... In short he must be just.

... the endurance of every individual in a party is not only conditioned by personal factors, but also by community spirit - which is inevitably bound up with the leader's personality. Each leader is different - and will have a different approach to the problem. But whatever he does will have an overriding effect on the performance of his party - and therefore on the ultimate degree of their success.”

Explorers, especially those who lead, have often been romanticized by the media, and in film and fiction, some of our favourite characters are explorers and pioneers. Sir Vivian Fuchs throughout his life took a practical and totally unromantic approach to exploration. Writing about him in 2000, Professor R. Laws (Base Leader for thge FIDS at Signy Island in 1948, and successor to Fuchs as Director of the British Antarctic Survey) said:

“As a leader Fuchs was vigorous, determined and courageous. Reserved and somewhat austere, he was cool in a crisis and meticulous in planning. Strong in physique, he was blessed with dynamic energy and possessed considerable powers of endurance. He was greatly respected by his men”

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