The greatest Briton: Ernest Shackleton

first_img Previous Article Next Article If the BBC can do it, so can Personnel Today. We want to know which Britonyou rate as the greatest people manager and leader of all time. Personnel Todayhas invited 10 leading figures in the field of management to nominateindividuals they believe are the best, and then convince you they are right. Tovote, visit the voting form where you will also find summaries of all 10nominees. The voting closes on Tuesday 4th March 2003.This week’s nominee is:Ernest ShackletonBy Ruth Spellman, chief executive of Investors in PeopleOn paper, Ernest Shackleton’s credentials may not seem to measure up tothose of a great leader or inspiration to others – he led three ambitious polarmissions, all of which were aborted before they reached their end goal. Andyet, Shackleton’s expeditions demonstrate an inspirational leadership model. He defied geographical boundaries that had never before been crossed, yet heled every single member of his party back to safety through extreme obstaclesand environmental conditions. At home, Shackleton generated great enthusiasmamong the British public for his expeditions, raising today’s equivalent of£10m – a particularly amazing achievement coming as it did in the wake ofRobert F Scott’s mission, when people could have questioned the value of asecond expedition to the Pole. In terms of recruiting teams for hisexpeditions, he was also a success: in one instance, 5,000 people applied forjust 56 positions on his team. Shackleton, like most great leaders, always recognised the importance of histeam. As he himself said: “The personnel of an expedition of the characterI proposed is a factor on which success depends to a very large extent.” To choose the members of his various expeditions, Shackleton drew oninsights gained during his seafaring career. He based his selections on who hecould trust to work both with and without him, as his missions often requiredhim to split his team to explore different directions or look after injuredcrew. He also understood the importance of giving every team member a degree ofresponsibility. For Shackleton, this helped establish a unit that could stillfunction should any of its party falter. Leadership in the early 20th century was typically very hierarchical. ButShackleton stands out in stark contrast as a leader who never expected his mento do anything that he was not prepared to do himself. He did his share of menial tasks – when the team wintered on the Antarctic,for example, they had a rota for night watch, which included everyone exceptthe cook and the team member with frostbite. And knowing his crews looked tohim for answers, Shackleton told it how it was – honestly, briefly. This is acrucial lesson to those leaders who favour ‘corporate speak’ or occasionalmessages from ‘on high’. And what difference did this make? Clearly, Shackleton was a leader who notonly understood, but shared the high and low points with his teams. When thingswent well, they all celebrated. When spirits were low, Shackleton rallied themen with football or ice hockey games. For me, any part of Shackleton’s adventures is inspirational. I have alwaysfound him to be the best example to follow because he offers a tangible rolemodel that is based not on modern management theory, but on real-lifeexperience. He exemplifies the model of optimism, and his example has driven myown enthusiasm throughout my career. I had to regularly draw on my own reservesof optimism when I worked at the NSPCC, where regular exposure to heartbreakingstories made it hard to stay positive. His optimism was particularly evident on a trip to the South Pole, when aseries of life-threatening problems plagued the expedition, ranging frominjuries and running out of food, to horrific weather conditions and having tokill their accompanying ponies. Yet Shackleton is reported to have told hismen: “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” I have to agree – difficulties are just things to overcome, but this canonly happen with the right team and the right leader. Through Shackleton’sexample, I realise the importance of building teams and of recognising thedifferent strengths of each individual on board. When colleagues and acquaintances tell me about their leadershipexperiences, the predominant feeling that comes across is one of loneliness.Shackleton teaches us that this needn’t be the case if strong bonds areestablished with the team. Leadership needs to be intellectual and emotional, and while this cansometimes seem unnatural in the work environment, consider instead the exampleof Shackleton and his men enjoying an impromptu Christmas Day celebration withplum pudding, medical brandy and crème de menthe after 58 days of hiking. Did Shackleton change the world? He didn’t aspire to change the world; hisambitions were personal aspirations that he shared with many – demonstratingqualities of leadership that are unparalleled in the modern environment. However, the manager who follows Shackleton’s example can create confidencein his or her team. Everything we do is a voyage of discovery, and in our freshchallenges, we need to choose, lead and inspire teams like Shackleton. Shackleton’s CV15 February 1874 Ernest H Shackletonis born in County Kildare, Ireland1898 At age 24, qualifies to command any British vessel1899 Volunteers for the National Antarctic Expedition and isaccepted, only to fall ill and be sent home1907 Leads a team of 18 in a bid to reach the South Pole,stopping just 97 miles short1914 Unsuccessfully attempts to cross the Pole from sea to sea,but charters new land when forced to seek help for his iced-in ship1921 Attempts to reach the North PoleJanuary 1922 Shackleton dies of heart failure aboard the Quest Related posts:No related photos. The greatest Briton: Ernest ShackletonOn 11 Feb 2003 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. last_img read more