“He has been called the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth bar none, yet he never led a group larger than 27, he failed to reach nearly every goal he ever set, and until recently he had been little remembered after his death”.
I have been pulled in many different directions as I write this post: is it about Ernest Shackleton another one of my heroes? Is it yet another article about leadership, or is it about my own application of Shackleton’s Way as I developed the best school development team and programme in Nepal? Oh hell, it’s all of them!
Shackleton and The Trans Antarctic Expedition
Ernest Shackleton was a polar explorer best known for his sea-to-sea trans Antarctic expedition in his ship Endurance in 1914. This is a short extract from Wikipedia:
“After the race to the South Pole ended in December 1911 …….. Shackleton turned his attention to the crossing of Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole. To this end he made preparations for what became the Trans Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17. Disaster struck this expedition when its ship, Endurance, became trapped in pack ice and was slowly crushed before the shore parties could be landed. The crew escaped by camping on the sea ice until it disintegrated, then by launching the lifeboats to reach Elephant Island and ultimately the inhabited island of South Georgia, a stormy ocean voyage of 720 nautical miles and Shackleton’s most famous exploit. In 1921, he returned to the Antarctic with the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition, but died of a heart attack while his ship was moored in South Georgia. At his wife’s request he was buried there.”
The book Endurance is a stunning account of the man himself and the expedition, the TV documentary-story is a “must see” if you can find it on Netflix or Amazon. The bravery of all of these men, the solid teamwork, the unbelievably harsh conditions they endured, and most of all the care that Shackleton showed towards every one of them that inspired such loyalty. When he returned to Elephant Island to rescue his men, his first words from his approaching boat are often misquoted and were misheard by those on shore. He did NOT ask “is all well?” he actually said “ARE ALL WELL” and there is a world of difference!
Shackleton and Leadership
The worlds bookshelves are full of books on leadership with many using examples of people from history, business, sport, politics and religion as role models. Julius Caesar, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jack Welch, Churchill, Mike Brearley, each one of them being analysed over and over for “how they did it”. Theories abound; situational leadership, values based leadership, transformational leadership, ……… so what difference can one more make?
In 1998 a book was published called Shackleton’s Way, written by Morell & Caparell in which the authors looked closely at the known behaviours and incidents in Shackleton’s life in an attempt to determine HOW the man inspired such loyalty in his team. Their book is definitely worth a read as it offers 8 Factors or Facets of Shackleton’s approach and then links them to modern day examples. Here they are:
1. The Values Path
2. Recruit Outstanding People
3. Create A Spirit Of Teamwork
4. Develop Individuals
5. Inspire Optimism
6. Assignment Teams
7. Use The Big Picture
8. Leave A Legacy
Reading the book will inform you on how Shackleton followed these principles naturally, but it will also use examples from many business people who used this approach in many business examples. However I think it might be more helpful to you, the reader here, to view my own personal experience of Shackleton’s Way which I will post up in a couple of days.
In the meantime you might like to think about how someone who failed in his major quests can be recognised a century later as “The greatest leader on God’s earth”.