Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer

Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer

Sir Ernest Shackleton has been called “the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none” for saving the lives of the twenty-seven men stranded with him in the Antarctic for almost two years. Today the public can’t get enough of this once-forgotten explorer, and his actions have made him a model for great leadership and masterful crisis management. Now, through anecdotes, the diaries of the men in his crew, and Shackleton’s own writing, Shackleton’s leadership style and time-honored principles are translated for the modern business world. Written by two veteran business observers and illustrated with ship photographer Frank Hurley’s masterpieces and other rarely seen photos, this practical book helps today’s leaders follow Shackleton’s triumphant example.The explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton has recently become the legendary character at the center of a renewed fascination with the early days of Antarctic exploration. Though not the most renowned explorer of his day, nor even the most successful in terms of stated goals, Shackleton’s story of adventurous ambition, incredible endurance, and heroic survival against all odds is indeed the stuff of legend. And now, thanks to the detailed research and helpful insights of Morrell and Capparell, his story is also the meaty material of lessons on how to lead with authority, integrity, humor, and compassion.

A British explorer once summarized the feats of the great Antarctic explorer like this: “For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organization, give me Scott; for a winter journey, give me 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.” His words set the tone for Shackleton’s Way, at once both a travel narrative and a handbook of the skills required for effective leadership of diverse groups, especially in times of change and crisis. Shackleton’s attempts to reach the South Pole and his two-year fight for the survival of his crew, when their ship is stranded in ice and then sunk, makes for exciting reading. Using this story as the centerpiece of their book, the authors have woven in their interpretation of his success using interviews with exceptional modern leaders such as Mike Dale, Jaguar’s former chief of North American operations, and Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, and by offering useful advice points at the end of each chapter. For example, in the chapter entitled “The Path to Leadership,” Shackleton is shown to have been a well-read man, eager to learn and able to mix with varied company. The authors support this by noting that broadening one’s horizons and learning to see things from different perspectives will allow for greater flexibility in problem solving. U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig agrees that a level of well roundedness is vital in leaders, acknowledging that “one of my prime aims in distributing books is to get people to think outside themselves and to think broadly.”

Morrell and Capparell’s excellent use of archival material (especially crew diaries) and their intelligent interpretation of what Shackleton’s story implies about good leaders makes this book both pleasurable and educational. Throughout the story of the explorer’s exploits, the authors have inserted summarizing subtitles that succinctly capture Shackleton’s leadership style. Occasionally, this seems a little strained; while the explorer’s progressive attitudes and actions deserve praise as leadership lessons par excellence, even some of his misjudgments are referred to with something approaching reverence. For the most part, however, the authors employ a subtle and effective hand in translating the actions of a man at the helm of a dangerous adventure into advice beneficial to leaders in all areas of life. —S. Ketchum

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3 thoughts on “Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer”

  1. YKP says:
    30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Shackleton’s Servant Leadership, October 11, 2002
    YKP (San Diego) –

    This review is from: Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer (Paperback)
    Sir Ernest Shackleton’s well-documented story of his ill-fated attempt to cross the Antarctic Continent and his heroic efforts to save his crew of 27 after the crushing and sinking of his ship Endurance is indeed the material for a major network mini-series. However, Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antartic Explorer, is an unglamorous and non-preachy lesson in leadership with authority, integrity, humor, and compassion.
    I do have a slight criticism, an important lesson in leadership was skipped – balance. Shackleton’s ability to coach and encourage, listen and build a sense of community, and focus on meeting the needs of others while developing and bringing out the best in them did not extend to his family. The authors Morrell and Capparell do mention his neglected family. However it was glazed over and they failed to offer insight on how we the reader might learn from this shortcoming. Clearly he was a self-directed and other-focused man, but he lacked balance. He devoted his life to his work and crew while his family settled for scraps of time and attention. It is important that we learn from success and failure, not just the stuff that makes for great TV and/or big screen movies.
    While Shackleton’s Way was admittedly a bit dry at times, I thoroughly enjoyed the mixture of history and practical applications of servant leadership in today’s business world. The book provides a glimmer of hope in light of the recent corporate ethics scandals. I am impressed by Shackleton’s pioneer sprit in exploration and leadership. He certainly did not have Covey, Greenleaf, Hunter or Autry to reference. How lucky we are to have Sir Ernest.
    Whether you are searching for a historical biography, travel journal, adventure story or a desktop guide to servant leadership you just might find something more than you bargained for in Shackleton’s Way.
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  2. Donald Mitchell says:
    27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    Leadership as a Flexible, Fatherly and Caring Role Model, September 16, 2001
    Donald Mitchell (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) –
    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)

    Leadership is all about character, determination, consideration, vision, and fidelity. Under horrible circumstances, leaders usually become much better or worse. Even the harsh Captain Bligh found himself fulfilling a hero’s role as a leader after the mutiny. Sir Ernest Shackleton was a fine man who became even finer under pressure.
    If you don’t know the story, let me outline a few details. During World War I, Sir Ernest led a small expedition to Antarctica from England in an attempt to cross that continent through the South Pole. The pole itself had already been reached by Amundsen and Scott. En route to land, the expedition’s ship, Endurance, became locked in the pack ice. The crew drifted with the ice for over 10 months before the ship was crushed by the ice. Pulling lifeboats over the ice, the men reached open sea more than five months later. They reached a small island, Elephant Island, where most of the men remained while Sir Ernest and a few men made an 800 mile three week sea voyage to their starting point, South Georgia Island. Arriving there, they faced a horrible trek over almost impassable terrain to get to the settlement. Sir Ernest immediately left to rescue the men left behind on Elephant Island. All those on board the Endurance survived.
    Throughout this rescue, Sir Ernest proved himself to be resourceful, flexible, considerate, and indomitable.
    Shackleton’s Way recounts Sir Ernest’s life, and summarizes key points about his leadership style. Each chapter ends with a commentary by someone who learned from Sir Ernest’s experiences to be a better leader.
    As a leadership book, Shackleton’s Way has a number of weaknesses. First, leadership and management are not separated. The bulk of the points made in the book relate more to management than to leadership. I think the book would have worked better if it had narrowed down to leadership, rather than including management. Sir Ernest seemed to be a fairly ordinary manager, while being an outstanding leader. With the two messages combined, the lessons are diluted.
    Second, Sir Ernest is treated with kid gloves in the book. That may no be warranted in all cases. For example, if he had abandoned the expedition before the Endurance became stuck in the pack ice, all of the suffering would have been avoided. Clearly, he may well have made some errors in judgment that led to the crisis.
    Third, most people can tell you what they would like leaders to do. The same people find it very difficult to do those things, even under good conditions. Under horrible conditions (as occurred here), the average person becomes a below-average leader. What were the things that Shackleton did in his mind to maintain the self-discipline to be a good leader? The book provides little insight into that critical point.
    Fourth, the key lessons are not elaborated on nearly enough. Flexibility is critical, for example, because leaders often misperceive the real situation, or find that their forecasts are wrong. An effective leader then must be looking for improved information, and be thinking about what actions could be taken should circumstances shift or be shown to be different than perceived. A whole book could be written about the significance of this point. Very little more attention is paid to this critical element than is to the idea of being optimistic, as a way to keep the mind and spirit resourceful.
    Fifth, the end of chapter examples of others being inspired by Sir Ernest are often pretty trivial and disconnected. This was particularly true about the Jim Cramer, Eric Miller, and Mike Dale. If all of these sections had been left out, the book would have been stronger. Or alternatively, leadership experts could have spoken about examples that they thought supported Sir Ernest’s principles.
    As a result, Shackleton’s Way ends up being too simple to be a good adventure saga or a good leadership book. To me, it seemed like a book that was aimed at young teenagers rather than at adults. If you want to read about Sir Ernest as an explorer, you will probably prefer Sir Ernest’s own books. As to leadership books, there are many fine ones. You could read any of the best leadership books (such as Managing Change), and then draw your own lessons from what Sir Ernest wrote.
    What qualities of leadership would you like to see in those who lead you? In this time of national trial in the United States, what lessons from Sir Ernest should be applied by political leaders?
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  3. Anonymous says:
    21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    for leaders and the led, January 6, 2001
    By A Customer
    This book gives a beautifully pared-down account of an extraordinary story and provides remarkably appropriate analogies in our present day. It should inspire many to read more on the subject of Shackleton and the Endurance expedition,particularly Endurance by Alfred Lansing.Whether you are a leader or among the led in any facet of your life there are lessons to be learned and remembered here. They are laid out in a clear and concise format and illustrated by the ongoing saga of Shackleton and the amazing group of men he brought through an unbelievably harrowing adventure. The book reminds us of the power of good, of compassion, perseverance, and honesty. It is well worthwhile reading for anyone interested in a marvelous story and how it relates to all of us in the here and now.
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