“Shackleton’s Way”

In 1914, a Polar explorer named Sir Ernest Shackleton set sail for Antarctica, aiming to become the first to cross it.  However, Shackleton and his 27 men never reached their goal.  Instead, they became stranded in the Antarctic for nearly two years, suffering through the frigid cold with extremely limited provisions.  What makes this one of the most magnificent leadership success stories ever told, rather than a dramatic example of failure, is that every single man survived.

The referenced Wharton article draws out some practical lessons for today’s leaders, providing specific Shackleton illustrations for each:

  • Put your people first.
  • Be flexible in tactics.
  • Choose your people carefully—for character, not just competence.
  • Sustain optimism in the face of adversity.
  • Lead by example.
  • Strive for equal treatment.
  • Exercise caution in pursuit of the goal.
  • Balance optimism with realism.

As extraordinary as Shackleton was, he was also a fallible mortal.  This article does a good job of not mythologizing him, and it touches on some of his mistakes as well.

What has always impressed me the most about Shackleton is that he understood human nature—and specifically, the unique natures of each of his 27 men.  His leadership style was situational, with great consideration on how to relate to and direct each individual, while keeping the team intact through unimaginable hardship.

(To learn more about Shackleton, I suggest reading “Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer.”)

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