Epic of Survival - Ernest Shackleton and Leadership

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  • Topic: Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, Frank Wild, Elephant Island
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  • Published : January 1, 2013
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Case Study of “EPIC OF SURVIVAL – Ernest Shackleton’s Voyage to the South Pole” By Reuben Q. Binasoy, SILVER Group, UB EMBA Intake 17

I.

Most Compelling Facts / Main Learning Points
a. The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition started out on August 8, 1914. The last of the crew members were rescued on August 30, 1916. More than 2 years after they had set out – in the face of the many dangers they faced during the failed expedition – Shackleton mustered together the courage, willpower, wit, & leadership and brought each and every member back home alive.

b. Shackleton assembled a group of men that were willing to go with him on a hazardous journey. They were paid little, there were long months of complete darkness, and constant danger. Safe return was doubtful. The only thing they would have gotten out of it was honor and recognition. Other people would have thought them desperate or crazy. Yet it’s most likely the allure of being in a Shackleton expedition that made them go anyway. Such was the power that Shackleton wielded over them. c. Ernest Shackleton provides a very good contrast vs. Rob Hall and Steve Fischer – group leaders of the 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy. While all 3 can be said to have both formal and personal power, Shackleton was able to harness his power effectively to rally the crew to survival. His crew had well-defined roles and responsibilities. They were a team with a common overriding goal – that of survival.

d. Shackleton put his people first. Yes, he was after fame & fortune but his sense of responsibility for his men was stronger. Shackleton knew that the expedition will be fraught with danger, but he also acknowledged that how the crew would behave could prove to be the most unpredictable element in the situation. His people-centered approach allowed him to know and acknowledged the abilities and personality of his crew. He was able to capitalize on these strengths (and mitigate weaknesses) as the crisis deepened.

e. Shackleton led by example. When he gave instructions to travel light, he tore 2 pages of the Bible and leaving the rest in the snow. He also tossed away his gold coins. These actions amplified his instruction. “Talk the talk, walk the walk” is an overused but rarely practiced term. In the case of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, this was on full display.

f. It is interesting to note that after months & months of despair, there was no mutiny whatsoever (at least based on the article) that undermined Shackleton’s power. It can be said that Shackleton’s crew had faith in him.

g. Shackleton also had trust in his men. Even though they had to break up into smaller teams, he knew that he had other leaders that could lead the other teams. He le ft a big group in Elephant Island, then a smaller one in South Georgia beach while he led 2 of his men to over 22 miles of unchartered territory to the Stromness Bay whaling station.

RB Binasoy / Epic of Survival / UB EMBA Intake 17

While he was indeed the overall leader, he also knew that he had to recruit and cultivated other leaders that would take his place if needed. h. As a leader, Shackleton demonstrated quick thinking and strategic agility. He was able to adjust his targets and his tactics as the situation dictated. He kept his options open and not despaired over trying to stick to one target destination. Once he knew that a target island will not be realistically within reach, he quickly made up his mind on secondary options. There was quick thinking in the face of much danger. II.

Consequences of Learning Points to Me and My Organization
a. A leader is only as good as his team. A great leader needs to be able to transform his followers into leaders in their own right. In his book “5 Levels of Leadership”, John Maxwell states that the highest leadership accomplishment is developing other leaders. Being an effective leader means being able to inculcate a system or mentality that allows the team to function even if it has...
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