June 2nd, 2015 |
June in Antarctica is winter.
By June 1915, British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 27 men were trapped in their ship Endurance, frozen solid in the ice.
The men had said goodbye to the sun and suffered from the -23°F (-30°C) temperatures. On October 27, Shackleton gave the order to abandon ship. “After long months of ceaseless anxiety and strain,” Shackleton wrote, “we have been compelled to abandon the ship. We are alive and well, and we have stores and equipment for the task that lies before us. The task is to reach land with all the members of the Expedition.”
When Endurance slipped under the Antarctic ice, members of Shackleton’s British Trans-Antarctic Expedition found themselves 1,800 miles from civilization with three lifeboats, meagre provisions and no means of communication.
What compelled Shackleton and his men to risk their lives?
Shackleton answered that “after the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen who, by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeyings-the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea.”
What lessons, learning and inspiration prompt leaders to return repeatedly to a failed expedition of 100 years ago?
The answer lies in Shackleton’s ability to save every crew member despite two years of relentless adversity. In his 1922 book The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a contemporary of Shackleton’s, wrote, “For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organisation, 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.”
The 4 Biggest Lessons
Shackleton and his men faced certain death. Yet with characteristic British understatement, Shackleton observed that “difficulties are just things to overcome.”
During the 2009 recession, CEOs and Key Executives in my Vistage groups studied this failed expedition. Here are the four biggest lessons. Tuck them away for the next recession:
Leadership Questions for You
As you continue your journey of leadership and endurance, consider:
“Leadership is a fine thing,” said Shackleton, “but it has its penalties. And the greatest penalty is loneliness.”
To dive even deeper into the topic of accountability, I invite you to purchase a copy of my bestselling book, “Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture.”
Business schools teach case studies. Hollywood blockbusters are inspired by true events.
Exceptional leaders are students of history. Decision-making comes with the territory.