Leadership Practices from two years of Survival in the Antarctic you can use Today
I began listening to Ernest Shackleton’s story of heroic survival and was delighted to find the first chapter boring. It was the perfect sleeping pill. But the story became so exciting that it eventually kept me awake.
Ernest Shackleton left England for the Antarctic on August 8, 1914. On August 22, 1916, he finally rescued twenty-two men he had left marooned on Elephant Island. They had lost their ship, the Endurance, to the ice on October 27, 1915.
The events of those 24 months and 22 days reveal one of the greatest stories of leadership and survival you will ever read.
3 leadership practices you can use today:
#1. Notice people.
Shackleton never let a crisis distract him from noticing the well-being of his crew. Leaders who focus on problems tend to neglect people.
#2. Maintain rituals.
Rituals provide stability during uncertainty. Do a few things at the same time everyday and in the same way.
#3. Enjoy something.
When they began trekking across the ocean icepack, each man’s personal items could weigh no more than two pounds – except the nine-pound banjo of the meteorologist.
10 leadership strategies from Shackleton explained by Dennis Perkins:
- Never lose sight of the ultimate goal, and focus energy on short-term objectives.
- Set a personal example with visible, and memorable symbols and behaviors.
- Instill optimism and self-confidence, but stay grounded in reality.
- Take care of yourself: maintain your stamina and let go of guilt.
- Reinforce the team message constantly: “We are one – we live or die together.”
- Minimize status differences and insist on courtesy and mutual respect.
- Master conflict – deal with anger in small doses, engage dissidents, and avoid needless power struggles.
- Find something to celebrate and something to laugh about.
- Be willing to take the Big Risk.
- Never give up – there’s always a better way.
Which leadership practice is most applicable to you today?
South (Shackleton’s Last Expedition): Illustrated 100th Anniversary Edition: Shackleton, Ernest: 9781952433542: Amazon.com: Books
Five Elements of Shackleton’s Leadership
Leadership Lessons From the Shackleton Expedition – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
The story is a fantastic example of leadership. I suggest you compare it to another one, In the Land of White Death, a complete mirror of Shackleton’s tale. It occurs in the arctic, and does not have such a happy ending, an illustration of a lack of leadership.
Thanks Todd. I will definitely look into White Death. I’ve read Dennis Perkin’s book, Leading at the Edge, Shackleton’s recounting of his own story, South – my favorite although it has some material that didn’t matter to me personally, and Endurance by Lansing. You can’t go wrong with any or all of those books.
It’s a story that makes we want to be a better person.
100+ years later, and the same strategies are still relevant.
Amazing, isn’t it! Thanks Jennifer.
They are all so good, perhaps the “never lose sight of the ultimate goal” is crucial, maintain short term objectives. I like “Never give up – there’s always a better way”. Sometimes we overwhelm ourselves and forget the basics, there always is a way, just some are better than others.
Thanks Tim. Of the insights that Perkin’s gives, the “never lose sight” insight seems SO practical.
This is one inspiring story.
You said it! I was up for two hours one night when I should have been sleeping.
never let a crisis distract you from the well-being of your crew…. I love this…
the wellbeing of staff should not be understated. It only takes one staff person that feels left behind, shut out, or unappreciated to infect the rest of the staff and it happens quickly and without notice.
providing engagement and emotional ownership in the “crew” is key to keeping everyone on board… so to speak.
even if someone does not like a decision, if they feel like they have been heard they would most likely agree simple because it is for the betterment of the whole crew especially since they felt their voice was heard and respected.
Thanks Lisa. It’s so true. When people feel heard they are more likely to support a decision that they might not like. But when they don’t feel heard, they will likely find fault all over the place
I love the strategy to “find something to celebrate and something to laugh about”. I find it goes such a long way to celebrate the little victories. We celebrate nice comments as they come in. Hearing more good than bad makes the bad news easier to hear and deal with!
Managing a service industry in healthcare, I also very much appreciate “Minimize status differences and insist on courtesy and mutual respect.” We often remind the service departments that just because they don’t get the accolades from the patients directly, doesn’t mean the facility can run without what we do. We treat each patient as a VIP and the housekeeper with the same respect as the CEO.
This was a great blog post today!
Thank you Terri. What’s great about celebrating is it doesn’t have to cost a nickel. It’s free! And it’s fun.
I recommend “Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer.” https://smile.amazon.com/Shackletons-Way-Leadership-Antarctic-Explorer-ebook/dp/B004IE9QPE/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=shackleton%27s+way&qid=1631106840&sr=8-2
I have always considered Shackleton a most interesting but somewhat tragic figure. Aside from his heroic expedition leadership, his life would not be considered successful or distinguished. It seems he was always looking for a quick path to wealth, the “get rich quick” idea, which led him into several business ventures which failed spectacularly. Shackleton died heavily in debt. His story slipped into obscurity until the 1960s.
Thanks for the book recommendation, Jim. I’ve noticed that the personal lives of some leaders is, shall we say, underwhelming.
It goes to show that being good at one thing is no guarantee that we are good at many things.