I’ve been re-reading a book (Shackleton’s Way) that explores Sir Ernest Shackleton’s amazing and aptly named Endurance Expedition. Perhaps the greatest heroic failure in history.
The Endurance expedition never made it’s goal. It barely even got started. It fell at the very first hurdle. The ship taking the expedition team to Antarctica got stuck in an ice floe, one day’s sail from the Antarctic continent and 1,200 miles from the nearest civilisation. The ice dragged the trapped ship around for ten months and then crushed it as the ice floe shifted!
The men were marooned on the ice, where they remained for three months, before the ice started to break up. They manned the life boats in an attempt to reach Elephant island, the nearest land, which they eventually did after seven grueling days at sea.
After a week, Shackleton took on of their small (22 foot) life boats and navigated the treachous 800 miles in open sea to South Georgia, where they could get help. Once they reached the island, it would be ten more days and a 36 hour trek over glacial mountains before they finally got to see other people at the Stormness Whaling station.
After just three days, Shackleton turned around and went back for his men, but even then he had three failed attempts to get back to his crew. Each of the ships were forced to turn home within sight of the island, due to worsening conditions. Shackleton reached his men over four months after he set out for South Georgia and bought them home.
The amazing thing about this failed expedition is that every single one of the men who set out with Shackleton returned home! They all survived and they all attribute that amazing feat to Shackleton and his leadership! He understood that people do not want to be ‘managed and driven; they want to be inspired and led’. Shackleton not only got the best out of his people but somehow he managed to keep morale high and life fun in the worst possible circumstances, in the most hostile conditions for more than a year and half!
Shackleton has a lot to teach us about leadership! If you’re a leader, study him!