Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Shackleton's Way

Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer...

Over the years history has come to regard Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton as an explorer of the first rate, eclipsing both Roald Amundson - who may have made polar exploration look too easy when he achieved the South Pole without incident in 1911, and Robert Falcon Scott - who for reasons only the British can explain, was celebrated for reaching the South Pole in 1912, a month after Amundson, and then dying of scurvy, privation, and exposure with his entire party on the return trip. 

Shackleton made several Antarctic forays.  Shackleton was invalided home after falling ill during Scott's unsuccessful attempt to reach the South Pole in 1903.  Leading his own expedition in 1909 Shackleton turned his team back from the Pole with only 97 miles to go, knowing his party could reach its goal but that they would almost certainly perish on the way home.  Once Amundsen succeeded in his technically adept attack on the Pole, Shackleton set his sights on traveling across Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea.  Before reaching the starting point his ship, the Endurance, was trapped in the pack ice in 1914 and then sunk in 1915.  He led his 27 men onto the ice for several more months, then into the ice-clogged sea in lifeboats, before reaching the relative safety of barren Elephant Island.  Chances of accidental rescue on Elephant Island were nil so Shackleton and a small party sailed the lifeboat "James Caird" 600 miles to South Georgia Island.  Every one of his Endurance team survived this harrowing adventure.

Authors Margaret Morrell and Stephanie Capparell have reimagined Shackleton as an example for corporate leadership.  To do so they gloss over his failures as a businessman between expeditions as well as his shortcomings as a husband.  A ten year old dustcover blurb comparing Shackleton to Jack Welch and Michael Dell is ironic now.

As a leader in challenging circumstances Shackleton did in fact have many admirable traits and the authors do a fine job of illuminating the leadership skills evident in Shackleton's career, particularly during the voyage of the Endurance.  Shackleton was a tough man, a gifted leader, and an interesting character.  Shackleton's Way draws parallels between his short life and our 21st century challenges.  Examples are given of the effect Shackleton's story has had on modern business leaders but the most compelling are those offered by military leaders and Jim Lovell, Commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, another successful failure.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who served under both Scott and Shackleton, is most famous for having said "For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organization, give me Scott; for a Winter Journey, Wilson; for a dash to the Pole and nothing else, Amundsen: and if I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it, give me Shackleton every time".

No comments:

Post a Comment