Leadership is one attribute that has always been admired and revered in men as and when they have displayed it. As a subject this has been researched a lot and as a quality and character people have tried to instill it in themselves and others by different ways and means. But in every case the thing that has been most widely used to understand this topic are examples of people who have great leadership qualities and have used it to great effect. Any list of such persons would be incomplete without the mention of Sir Ernest Shackelton, arguably the greatest of them all.
Although bestowing such a high accolade to Sir Ernest might raise some eyebrows but a deep study of the life and times of this gentleman would be sufficient to erase any shadow of a doubt that anyone would have in this regard. In fact one particular voyage of 1914-16 called the Imperial Trans-Atlantic voyage is a prime example and source of study for most of the leadership gurus of the modern era. It was his impeccable leadership and decision making on this particular voyage that left a great mark of this gentleman on history.
After setting out on the ship called ‘Endurance’ from the South Georgia Island but a month later in January 1915 they found themselves trapped in pack ice and drifted along with it for nine months. Later, they lost their ship and which was crushed by the ice and wind and this forced the crew on the floes where they spent another 6 months. When the ice floes began to crack that is when they shifted on to the life boats they had and were out in the sea and after battling the winds and tough weather of the southern ocean they landed at the uninhabited Elephant Island. All along Sir Shackelton displayed admirable leadership in maintaining the optimism of the men and their decorum. From the Elephant Island 6 members of the unit left for South Georgia Island which is at a distance of about 650 miles. It took them more than 16 days to reach there. And it was still four more months before the rest of the crew was rescued from the Elephant Island on the third attempt.
From this entire journey and its records various lessons in leadership and managements have been drawn by the experts. Some of them are as follows.
- Careful selection- one of the most interesting process of Sir Ernest that can be put forth as an example to any and all budding leaders and managers of the modern era is his selection process. While selecting his team he did not only go by the knowledge and competence of the person but also the character and passion that he possessed. Shackelton’sleadership further brought out the best in the candidates who were selected.
- Generating the trust of the crew by putting their safety first- This was perhaps the most endearing aspect of his greatleadership that when there was a grave crisis that they faced his decisions were based on the well being of his men even if this meant sacrificing a major goal of the entire expedition.
- He lead by example which is the most admired and desired characteristic of any leader. He knew the importance of the old saying that actions persuaded more than words. So for e.g. when he had to order the men to travel lightly, he was the first to lighten down so much so that he even tossed his bad of gold coins to send the message across clearly to his men. He treated his men equally, all had to do all kinds of work including him.
- All this was possible because of his flexibility in making decisions according to situations and circumstances. This helped in sustaining great optimism while facing various adversities on trips of danger and hardships. His life and ways are a lesson for any aspiring leader and manager in the contemporary world.
Considering all this and studying about it in detail one is very much convinced of the status that is bestowed upon Sir Ernest Shackelton. He was far ahead of his time as far as managing people and crisis is concerned. No wonder that today most people benefit a lot from his experiences and leadership.