Ernest Shackleton: High-Stakes Leadership

Topics: Ernest Shackleton, Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, South Pole Pages: 13 (4839 words) Published: April 3, 2005
Ernest Shackleton: High-Stakes Leadership

The topic of this leadership case study is Ernest Shackleton. This paper will identify the development of Shackleton's leadership skills, provide examples and reflections of his abilities, and relate how he played an essential role in one of history's greatest survival stories. This study of Shackleton's leadership is set loosely within the framework of the five practices of exemplary leadership set forth in The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, and will focus on the benefits produced by his management of team morale and unity (13).

Kouzes and Posner remark that leadership experiences are "voyages of discovery and adventures of a lifetime…[and] they are challenging explorations under rigorous conditions" (174). While this may be true, it is often in an extreme crisis situation that leadership is ultimately tested. This is the circumstance that Shackleton faced with his crew of twenty-seven, while stranded in the ice floes off the Antarctic Continent. Credit is due to the leadership of Ernest Shackleton; every member aboard the Endurance survived, and was finally rescued after six hundred and thirty-four days. Shackleton said of leadership, "If you're a leader, a fellow that other fellows look to, you've got to keep going" (qtd. in Morrell and Capparell 215). Synopsis of the Endurance Expedition—See Appendix (Pages 19-21) The Endurance, the vessel carrying the men and the title of the expedition, was named by Shackleton after his family motto—Fortitudine Vincimus (By endurance we conquer) (Perkins 41). To relate the significant factors of Shackleton's leadership during the Endurance expedition, it is necessary to summarize the timeline of the events. A chronological timeline of the expedition is included at the end of this paper. The saga of the Endurance has relevant lessons for today's leaders concerning the vital nature of team unity and interdependence, risk taking, optimism, and selfless leadership. Shackleton, known as "The Boss" to his men, was at all times responsible for fostering and developing these dynamics, and thus provides an example of the remarkable achievements that are possible in even the direst of situations. The expedition failed in its attempt to be the first to transverse the Antarctic, yet the ultimate success is judged by the safe return of all the crewmembers. The events of the Endurance expedition were well documented by the crewmembers through detailed diaries and photographs. From their reflections and subsequent interviews with biographers, the crew's feelings toward their leader are apparent (Morrell and Capparell; Perkins). The following sections provide specific examples and are based on the five exemplary leadership practices as outlined by Kouzes and Posner: Challenge the Process, Inspire a Shared Vision, Model the Way, Encourage the Heart, and Enable Others to Act (13). In all of the instances subsequently noted, it is acknowledged that the examples should not be confined to any one of the categories. Shackleton's practice of these strategies demonstrates that an effective leader blends all of the elements into a unified theme. Shackleton Challenged the Process

The search for opportunity begins when leaders take on meaningful challenges, and thus experience conditions that test their capabilities. Leaders should be able to assess and take risks. From those experiences, they can learn to lead a team to accomplish extraordinary achievements (Kouzes and Posner 17). Shackleton's yearning to explore the Antarctic was born out of his desires to achieve the improbable and attain fame and notoriety (Morrell and Capparell 32). Both the Artic and the Antarctic remained unexplored in the first decade of the twentieth century, and the promises of celebrity, honor for one's country, and possible wealth were the romantic rewards for the explorers of the day (28, 55). The path that led Shackleton to a position of leadership...
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