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The Despair of Ice and Ability to Lead People through Storms.

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Book Corner: Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer, written by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparel

There is a vast library on offer for readers who want to study leadership books from historical figures. Shackleton’s Way adds to the fray and our knowledge by analyzing the famous 1915 Antarctic Endurance expedition of legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) for his leadership skills.

A word about Shackleton. Born in Ireland and raised in London, he cut his teeth on the Discovery expedition with Captain Robert Falcon Scott that explored the Antarctic regions in 1901 - 1904, one of the most brutal and inhospitable places on the planet. Later while leading on his own, he garnered international fame for a further series of Antarctic expeditions where he set distance records. Although in his lifetime he was considered a key figure in what is today known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, he died in debt and fell out of the public eye for many years.

In the late 1950s, a series of books began to appear around Shackleton’s exploits, and his achievements began to be celebrated by a whole new generation of enthusiasts, leading to documentaries plus biographical TV miniseries (1983 and again in 2002, the latter featuring Kenneth Branagh). He has been acknowledged by the US Navy, and major universities have given management courses where his unique leadership style has been analyzed and promoted.

Shackleton’s Way tells the story of the Endurance expedition with an odd, but interesting, spin. For some background, the ship got stuck in ice and Shackleton was forced to abort and then lead his men to safety, with dwindling supplies, in the frigid wilderness. Morrell and Capparel analyze the expedition not as a success – which it wasn’t – but how Shackleton’s excellent leadership abilities saved his men and brought them all back alive and relatively unharmed (one man, however, lost his foot).

The Endurance story is told chronologically through eight sections, each highlighting a different leadership skill and how Shackleton embodied it, such as Creating a Spirit of Camaraderie and Leading Effectively in a Crisis. Each section concludes by focusing on a modern leader – from such diverse fields as business, education, and government – and how they in turn have been influenced by Shackleton and embody his style in their respective fields.

Shackleton was calm under pressure, led from the front, broke down the rigid hierarchies that were the norm on these expeditions, created cohesive and bonded teams, and was a master motivator. His crew respected and worked hard for him, and had full faith in his abilities. He had uncanny interviewing skills, creating a tight, professional team out of thousands of applicants with seemingly unconventional questions.

Shackleton was a fascinating man, and the lessons contained within this book are pure wisdom. The story itself is really an exciting adventure and you'll get hooked after a few pages.


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