There are several books lining the shelves today which purport to teach techniques related to corporate leadership. In these challenging economic times there are many diverse schools of thought about how leaders can persevere in the face of great adversity. Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer chronicles the extraordinary true story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s and his team who from 1914-1916 led an exploration of the South Pole which was at the time a yet unmapped and unknown wasteland.
The team by way of the ship known as endurance crashed into the packed ice and became trapped with the crew still inside drifting twelve thousand miles from civilization. After the shipped was crushed open by the ice 10 months later the crew were freed and pulled lifeboats for five months before they reacted open sea. Afterwards they reached a small island known as Elephant Island where most of the men decided to remain. Sir Ernest however led a small team on a three week sea voyage back to their starting co-ordinates. 00 miles later they reached a South Georgian island.
After reaching the island they endured further hardships by surviving a near impossible walk. They crossed several miles of impassable terrain to finally reach civilization. Upon reaching there, Sir Shackleton immediately returned to rescue those whom he left behind at Elephant Island. Incredibly at the end of this storied adventure. The entirety of the crew who were originally on the endurance survived. Not only is the tale given in this book an astounding example of leadership, courage and adventure.
But the lessons that can be gleaned from the Sir Shackleton’s experience are also available for everyone to benefit from. The authors of this book do so by providing the secrets of Shackleton’s leadership and managerial skills. They draw on anecdotes, crew dairies, recent material and interviews with some of today’s most successful business entrepreneurs. This does not detract from the fact that the pace of the adventure is exciting and emotionally charged. In fact the pace is so good that the reader often seems to forget that the expedition failed in what it set out to do in the first place.
When talking about which skills I have gleaned from this book it is important for me to recount the events that gave me a perspective on them. In 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton used his innate skills to choose the most qualified individuals for the task at hand. Shackleton understood that the key ingredient that would lead o the success of his mission would be the unity and teamwork among his crew. He told his crewmate hussy that the soul of adventure is the true source of harmony among men. The book portrays him as a person who was very close to his crew.
He always made himself available in case they required him for anything. However he insured that the chain of command was respected without deterring the open sharing of ideas. He encouraged his men to talk to him about all manner of subjects and debated with them openly. Although he also recognized that each individual though partaking in every task had their own professional skill set. He knew the advantages and disadvantages of using each member of the crew. He also understood the importance of moral.
He would often gift his crew with luxury food items and his crew would have celebrations with music and song. When they were trapped in their vessel these activities helped them survive by keeping their spirits up. He would insure that no one person felt separated as an individual rather they would feel part of the whole group. He also insisted on healthy diet and exercise. He would encourage sports among his crew members. However he would always advise caution among them especially in the case of them not getting lost in the frozen wastes. He would match work with his crew’s personality types.
He places each man in a long term work environment that he knew they would thrive in. He viewed his relationship with each crew member differently and treated them all differently often encouraging one and chastising another. However he insured that he did place any excess responsibility on any one person and insured that they did not feel as if they were trapped in a high pressured situation. Shackleton also understood the need to equalize the standing among all the members of his expedition. He made the scientists on the trip share in the ships cores and had seamen take scientific readings.
Everyone on the boat partook in every operation that was undertaken on the ship. Every person was included in the navigational, guarding, cleaning, scientific research and manual labor aspects of the vessel. He did not discriminate among his crew in terms of occupation or status. In fact he himself was included in these daily mundane tasks especially if someone on the ship took ill or was injured. When anyone was disobedient and broke the rules he would punish them as fairly as he saw fit. He was not harsh nor did he let them off lightly.
He understood the effort involved in running his ship and wanted to preserve the dignity and honor of his crewmates without comprising his authority. This was essential when the crew were pulling the lifeboats for 800 miles to Elephant Island. He divided them into several teams which could function independently of each other and as a complete group. This allowed them to have enough strength and talents within their ranks to offset any weaknesses. When they reached Elephant Island the groups’ organization fell apart. However their leader Ernest took charge and brought their group together again.
The men showed undeniable and infallible loyalty to him. He understood that his men were in a very delicate psychological state of mind and that their chances for survival were slim. He encouraged them to talk about their issues and fears and to relax. He strived to keep their mindset intact and focused on the task ahead while being assured of their continued survival. Once they left Elephant Island Shackleton showed remarkable leadership skills when he managed to convince his men to continue searching for opportunities to find civilization despite the fact that he made several mistakes.
Rather than reminiscing on his errors Shackleton would instead avoid regretting past mistakes and look towards the future. He would use humor to calm his men and help them through this troubled time. Many unpopular but necessary decisions were made. However he did waste any time or energy. He rationed out supplies and operations as necessary. He delegated responsibilities to other people in times of great hardship and trusted them to perform well. He never sought to avoid the logical course of action. He did not give in to failure.
He self sacrificed his own comfort to insured that his men received the care they required. When he left for South Georgia leaving behind most of his crew he showed great faith in Frank Wild. Frank Wild himself followed Shackelton’s leadership example and kept his entire group of men safe in the face of great danger until the splintered group returned. Through all the hardships Shackleton kept a cool calm and collected head. He made sure he understood the objectives that needed to be met to ensure the survival of all of his crewmates.
He did not sacrifice anyone within his group whether in terms of mental or physical comfort save for himself. In the end he was successful in finding help and saving all of his men. When reading this book the one greatest thing I realized was that Shackleton’s greatest achievement actually rose out his failure. It is quite frankly impressive how the man dealt with the increasing difficulties his expedition threw at him. It is even more impressive to read that he did all that while maintaining the loyalty and support of his crewmates.
Although the incident took place nearly a hundred years ago in a time that is vastly different when compared to ours. In other words they were living in an era with very little scientific and technological advancement when compared to today. The fact that the man was able to inspire so many men to essentially follow him on a suicide run and then continue following him despite his subsequent failures is astounding. This books more than anything else is a good source for a practical idea on leadership and guidance in today world. Its analysis shows how effective leadership is not simply about delegating tasks and meeting goals.
It is also important to ensure that the people who get you to your goals receive the importance and care that they deserve. They are not simply worker ants, they are individuals and treating them as such will get you a much greater advantage than any marketing strategy you can devise. The rich source material for this book not only provides the managerial basis for this idea but the psychological basis as well. The accounts of his management style and his enviable penchant for thinking ahead are the basis for every strategy used in the business world today.
The additional interviews in the book with today’s most influential business leaders only serves to show how inspirational and relevant these ideas still are. As a manual on how to manage a team towards the successful completion of a singular goal this book is perhaps the primer of all books in the business managerial style. It is more important than ever that the lesson imparted in this book become the basic designs for businesses today. So that both employer and employees can pool their collective efforts and both see the fruits of their labors.