I’ve been working through the true account of Earnest Shackleton’s 1914 voyage from England to Antarctica where Shackleton and an entire British nation were hoping he would be the first man to cross the Antarctic continent on foot.
I’m a little more than three-fourths of the way through Alfred Lansing’s powerfully descriptive book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” and already the principles of leadership in light of our current global pandemic are glaring.
Leadership is no longer a nice-to-have conference topic with palatable nuggets to fill mandatory business training time. Leadership, as it stands today, is literally life and death as unemployment towers over what during the Great Recession now seems mild, and healthcare workers in certain locales throughout the world are teetering on acute burnout.
The idea behind endurance is the motion to push through hard things. The assumption in the definition is that things are hard. Today, things are hard.
This was such a challenging expedition, Shackleton reportedly posted this advertisement in the London Times newspaper:
“Men wanted for a hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
The increase spike of pandemic infection and death, along with the unemployment chart in contrast to the bottoming out of the stock market chart are visual indicators that things are in the beginning stages of hard, and will likely get harder as the long hard winter of the health and economic challenge sets in.
In temperatures and conditions far worse than where many of us are situated right now, Shackleton led through unimaginable burden and courage. Here are five takeaways that we can practically install right now so that in a decade or century, future generations may look back at our actions today and name it with the banner of endurance.
First, leadership requires an internal resolve and conviction based on truth and experience. Shackleton had spent a lifetime studying, thinking, and exploring putting him in a position to have a steely, but mindful resolve.
Second, Shackleton would often go out alone late into the night and early morning to stand and walk alone.
It is not lost on me that all of this is happening in and around holy week. Likely the most infamous lonely, dark-knight-of-the-soul experience is accounted in the gospels of the Christian Bible, where Jesus is shown to have walked into a Middle Eastern garden and began sweating blood due to the immense pressure he was experiencing in anticipation for what was about to come.
Both leaders needed to retreat to have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Third, Shackleton surrounded himself with legitimate others-centered experts and allowed them to BE the expert.
On the Endurance voyage were dog handlers, navigators, boat pilots, rowers, engine mechanics, etc. The entire expedition was fueled by experts in each area. This was not the Shackleton-show…he was the producer and everyone else was an actor on the main stage. Shackleton called the plays and the team executed in Arctic temperatures and with self-less-ness.
Fourth, Shackleton had to be decisive because the Antarctic ice waits for no man. Throughout being stranded on various ice drifts, Shackleton would call the men at a moments notice to completely pack camp, load up the life-boats and switch to an adjacent drift on an experiential hunch that it would help navigate them to their rescue destination.
The Antarctic sea was unpredictable, fluid (no pun intended), and unforgiving. Activing decisively was fraught with risk, but indecisiveness was certain death.
Fifth, Shackleton ran his days within the gift of a schedule. When there were things to do a schedule made plenty of sense due to the entire crew of 28 men needing rest and rhythm. Even the menu each day was a careful selection of nutrition, preservation, and rationing. More interesting to me was Shackleton’s adherence to a strict schedule when there was absolutely nothing today while the team was stranded for days and weeks.
In the Antarctic it could be dark day and night, or it could be light day and night depending on the season. Shackleton always laid down a schedule for his team to follow.
For some of you the days are filled with darkness, for others the days are filled with light. Regardless, let’s be practitioners of good leadership. Let’s build and demonstrate resolve and courage, spend time alone to see and hear in the quiet, surround ourselves with experts and empower them to share their expertise, be decisive, and operate via a helpful and mindful schedule.
We may never have another opportunity to lead like we have right now. Let’s lead with endurance.
Scott Beebe is the founder of Business On Purpose, author of Let Your Business Burn: Stop Putting Out Fires, Discover Purpose, And Build A Business That Matters. Scott also hosts The Business On Purpose Podcast and can be found at mybusinessonpurpose.com.