All good business people have a touch of the adventurer in them, especially entrepreneurs and CEOs. That’s why I recommend the A&E channel’s four-hour miniseries on Ernest Shackleton, the guy who set out to conquer Antarctica for Great Britain in 1914. I watched it a few weeks ago. It amounts to a four-hour clinic on leadership. If you can’t catch it in reruns, it’s scheduled for release shortly on video and DVD.
In the opening scenes, Shackleton infects everyone with his enthusiasm. He infects the doctors, scientists, technicians and sailors who sign on for his expedition, and he infects the investors who underwrite it. He’s a peerless salesman, something that never fails to stir my heart.
That’s why I beat the drums endlessly for courses in sales technique, in public speaking, in marketing and advertising, in writing and in acting. All of these will enhance your communication skills. And with communication skills you can motivate, convince and persuade. You can lead. You can market your ideas, and you can marshal a team to realize them.
Shackleton did just that. He named the ship for his Antarctic expedition “Endurance.” Why? Early on in the film he states his family’s motto, “By endurance we conquer.”
With communication skills you can motivate, convince and persuade You can market your ideas, and you can marshal a team to realize them.
And he did indeed endure, even though the ship itself was lost. It broke up and sank when ice expanded and crushed its hull. Shackleton and his 28-man crew were then stranded on the icecap. They were imperiled, almost hopelessly.
That’s when Ernest Shackleton really came through.
As he had from the very beginning of the expedition, he again shared his plans with his team. He communicated his objectives. Their mission statement was now simple. He said he would keep them all alive because he wouldn’t allow them to die.
When disgruntled and fatalistic crewmen challenged his authority, especially one dour and hard-bitten Scottish carpenter, he asserted his right to lead them, never backing down an inch and citing the contract they’d all signed. This contract spelled out his authority over them, on sea and on land. He and his crew were completely cut off from civilization. Radio had been invented but was not then in wide use.
Still, Shackleton managed to save himself and all of them, just as he said he would. He picked out a small band of men and sailed 900 miles in frigid seas in a whaling boat. The boat was especially rigged to withstand waves of over a hundred feet.
Who rigged the boat this way? The rebellious Scottish carpenter, of course. The one Shackleton threatened to have shot for insubordination! This would-be mutineer ingeniously enclosed the whaling boat, somewhat like a kayak, making it very hard to sink from waves crashing over it.
When Shackleton and the small band he took with him hit landfall, they had to scale a treacherous mountain range in order to reach a whaling outpost. From there they sent a party back to rescue the majority of the crew, left behind on a rocky and windswept island.
As a leader Shackleton was a paragon. Get this film, watch it and analyze it. Notice what he did:
1. He put together a thorough business plan.
2. He sold this business plan to investors and to his crew.
3. He communicated his vision.
4. He infected others with his passion.
5. He recruited excellently.
6. He motivated his team. More than this, he inspired them.
7. He delineated his plans beforehand and shared his strategy.
8. He verbalized his thinking along the way and sought feedback from his team.
9. He asserted his authority whenever necessary and to whatever degree necessary.
10. He utilized his own talents and those of his team to the fullest. He was forever resourceful.
11. He was decisive and favored action over passivity.
12. The only special treatment he accepted was loyalty to his leadership.
13. He never doubted himself or communicated negativity to his team.
14. He never lost his nerve, waffled or panicked.
15. He never entertained total failure as an acceptable outcome.
Mackay’s Moral: Explore the adventurer in you and you’ll discover who you truly are.
Reprinted with permission from nationally syndicated columnist Harvey Mackay author of the New York Times bestsellers Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive and Pushing The Envelope.
For more information on Ernest Shackleton, check out:
- The Greatest Survival Story of All Time from A&E Video
Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot
Morrell, Stephanie Capparell and Alexandra Shackleton
Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
- South: A Memoir of the Endurance Voyage by Ernest Shackleton