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Leadership: The Endurance Factor

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”  This was the notice posted by Sir Earnest Shackleton as he sought to recruit a crew for the first transcontinental crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole.

Twenty-seven men responded. They had no idea of the hardship that awaited them as they set off in December, 1914. It was to be an ill-fated trip.

Shackleton christened his ship, “Endurance”, after his family motto, Fortitudine Vincimus—”by endurance we conquer”. Early in the expedition, the ship became trapped in the pack ice of the Weddel Sea. For 10 months they drifted with the ice pack. Eventually the wooden ship was crushed and sank. He and his 27 men were trapped.

For five long months the crew survived on the floating ice. Hunger, cold, and desolation took its toll. Once the ice began to crack and split they set off in three small boats, eventually reaching Elephant Island.  It was a lonely, desolate place far from civilization. Then, Shackleton and five men went for help crossing 800 miles of treacherous seas to South Georgia Island.  This trip is considered one of the greatest boat journeys of all time.

After finally reaching the Island, they trekked across mountains and around crevices to eventually reach a remote whaling station.  No one had ever crossed the island on foot before. The whalers were astonished to hear of their ordeal. As soon as possible Shackleton organized a rescue team and after three failed attempts, finally saved all the men left behind on Elephant Island.  It was August, 1916.

It was Shackleton’s extraordinary leadership which helped his crew of 27 men survive unimaginable hardships. They loved and respected him for it. Today, millions look upon Earnest Shackleton as a great leader.

I just finished reading the book, “Endurance,” which tells this story and can’t help but note the leadership qualities exemplified by this man.

He honestly told his crew what to expect from the beginning.  Every man knew what he signing up for, even though none could really anticipate the hardship they faced.  But, Shackleton didn’t sugarcoat it.  He knew they might not return.

He put his crew’s well-being as a top priority.  He truly cared about his men and made difficult choices to be sure that each was treated fairly and respectfully.

In an attempt to help his crew get over the trauma of abandoning the Endurance, Shackleton literally served his men by rising early in the morning. He made hot milk and hand-delivered it to every tent in the camp. He was a Servant-Leader.

He sought to lift the morale of his men, by standing tall among them and cheering them onward. He never seemed depressed or unsure that they would survive.  In spite of the danger he remained determined that they would survive. Had he given up, surely they all would have perished. Instead, by example he was willing to bring out the best of each man.

Over twenty-two long, hard months, twenty-seven ordinary men, became giants and extraordinary men, led by Sir Earnest Shackleton’s example.

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