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Scott Expedition – with 24hr daylight where are the ‘dark sides’?

November 8, 2013

Extreme expeditions are high risk physically and mentally.  I am very excited to have been asked to provide psychological support to the Scott Expedition.  Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are very aware that their journey across Antarctica to complete Scott’s 1,800-mile return journey to the South Pole on foot will be pushing the physical and psychological boundaries of human potential.  As part of their psychological preparation they thought it would be a good idea to get an insight into their own and each other’s personality, to make most of their strengths and reduce the potentially life-threatening impact of any default ‘dark side’ behaviours that might come out when the going gets really tough.

To achieve this we used two personality questionnaires:

  • The Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) is designed to assess the ‘bright’ side, that is aspects of personality that  promote success. This can reveal areas of strengths and some interpersonal tendencies that might cause problems.
  • The Hogan Development Survey (HDS) identifies the ‘darker’ side of personality, revealing what we might experience when people are stressed.  These ‘darker’ sides of our personality can affect an individual’s leadership style and behaviour. Under normal circumstances these characteristics can be strengths. However, when stressed, tired, hungry or otherwise distracted these risk factors may become dysfunctional, impeding effectiveness and eroding the quality of relationships and decisions.

In an extreme environment where Ben and Tarka are interdependent for survival having this intra and inter-personal awareness gives them greater ability to manage themselves and each other in the potentially challenging situations they might encounter.

Ben’s profile reveals he is friendly, warm and popular, enjoys being in the limelight and exciting others about his projects.  He thrives in adventurous, high risk situations, is highly ambitious, self-sufficient, competitive, confident and comfortable in a leadership role.  Whilst he enjoys the bigger picture aspects of the expedition, he is reasonably organised and reliable when it comes to managing the day to day tasks critical to their survival.   He is able to focus on what needs to be achieved and remain calm and composed under pressure.   Ben prefers learning on an as and when needs basis and is curious, creative, analytical and good at developing well thought through solutions before deciding what to do.

However in high stress/pressure situations or when, cold,  tired and hungry Ben may become overly confident and manipulative about doing things his way and on occasions may become a little impulsive and impatient.  Ben prefers to avoid conflict and so may struggle to address any differences of opinion or other issues as and when they arise.

Ben’s profile also suggests he may experience an inner conflict/dilemma between his reserved /self-sufficient dark sides and:

  • his colourful, limelight seeking dark side
  • his friendly, caring, conflict avoidant ‘bright side’

Tarka’s profile reveals he also thrives in high risk, adventurous situations, is highly ambitious, self-sufficient, confident and comfortable in a leadership role.  However he may sometimes come across as ruthless, dominant and competitive.   Like Ben, Tarka enjoys the bigger picture aspects of the expedition, however Tarka has a more unorthodox approach to developing ideas and solutions to expedition challenges.  He also has an ability to focus on what needs to be achieved, however may struggle to pay attention to the detailed, more routine tasks that may be key to their survival.  In a crisis Tarka is likely to remain reasonably calm and make a realistic assessment of the situation before deciding what to do.

In high stress/pressure situations or when tired, cold and hungry Tarka may not listen to Ben, may be dismissive of Ben’s ideas and/or may struggle to persuade Ben why his rather unorthodox solutions/ideas might be best.

The likelihood of their ‘dark sides’ emerging is reduced and/or moderated due to their ability to remain calm and rational when under pressure and they both thrive in adventurous, high risk situations.

Following their individual and team feedback, given the insights they’d gained, we discussed how they can best manage themselves and each other to maintain psychological fitness throughout this challenging expedition.

Click here for a case study on the Rivers of Ice Expedition

this blog has been written with permission from Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere

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When the going gets tough – making sure your ‘dark side’ is on your side!

January 18, 2012

Reading the recent BBC article on how endurance sports are becoming more and more extreme http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16548236?postId=111448477#comment_111448477.  Nowadays a marathon or iron-man event is often just the starting point for the real ‘ultra’ endurance events as participants love discovering just how much further they can push themselves.  Equally in the continually challenging economic climate I’m hearing managers and leaders likening their work to endurance events e.g. ‘it feels like we are scaling Everest’, ‘I’m running through treacle 6 days a week’. 

And for all the physical fitness that is required, the mind also has to last the distance, as the saying goes ‘what the mind believes the body achieves’ .  This requires both good mental toughness (see my earlier blog http://sarahfenwick.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/mental-toughness-and-resilience-on-ice/) and good self-management (i.e. knowing and managing our own personality).

We will each have our own interpretation of ‘endurance’ events in our lives and we each have our own personality make up that can help or hinder us in seeing them through – whether that be to take part and complete or be a winner.  Typically the stronger (more extreme) aspects of our personality provide us with strengths to draw on especially when things are going well.  However some of these personality strengths also have a ‘dark’ or flip side.  And in the moments when things aren’t going so well and we are under pressure, feeling stressed, maybe tired, cold and hungry, what were strengths if we overuse or over-rely on them, can become our ‘dark sides’, potentially leading to dysfunctional behaviours (e.g. confidence turning to arrogance) and a negative impact on our and/or our team’s performance or even derailment.

When working with individuals and/or teams in business, sport and extreme sport/expeditions I have found using the Hogan Development Survey questionnaire invaluable in helping people to identify their potential ‘dark sides’ (Rivers of Ice Expedition Hogan Personality case study).  Once you’ve got to know your own ‘dark sides’ (some even name them and play with them – especially good in teams!) you can learn how to manage them so that when the going gets tough you learn to keep them as strengths and help you to be one of those who makes it to finish and achieves your goals.

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