Sir Earnest Shackleton was described as “The greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none.”
He led his team of 27 men to safety after they were “lost at sea” for two years. Shackleton can teach today’s business owners and managers a great deal about leadership. He summed effective leadership up in five words.
“Do something big for the other chap” was a hugely important element of leadership for him. For two years his men survived on an Antarctic ice flow eating penguins, dogs and fish. Had they not all done “big things” for their comrades, they would all have perished.
Today’s business world is fraught with danger; keeping the team together, and focused on the future – by doing big things for each other – can overcome those dangers, and see everyone through to a successful result.
Shackleton believed that optimism is not simply looking on the bright side, not just encouraging others to “stay calm and carry on,” or wearing a smile all day. He believed that optimism is the equivalent of moral courage.
Believing you will take your team to the future you envision enables leaders to see beyond the present obstacles and as far forward as imagination allows. Moral courage is a powerful energy to have and to exhibit.
Leaders are courageous. Shackleton said that “a man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground.” In his day, men went out into the world to explore, to discover and to succeed. Today women and men go out into the business world to create new markets or to dominate an existing market.
The markets change, as competitors develop improved processes and create new products. Leaders must respond to these changes by “shaping themselves to new marks.” Markets will always change, technology will quickly make an existing process obsolete, and new products will leapfrog existing products to meet customer demand. It takes courage to overcome those challenges, to capitalize on the change, and to keep succeeding.
Leaders and their teams must trust each other if they are going to keep moving forward, and if they are to overcome today’s obstacles. Shackleton considered loyalty to be more than comradeship, more than mutual respect, more than providing support to those in need. He considered loyalty to be “a sacred trust.” Leaders must exhibit this trust in others, and others must be able to trust their leader. Trust builds loyalty.
Leaders are followed. It is easier for a team to follow when they believe in the goal and the direction they are being asked to take to achieve it. When they see consistency to purpose in their leader, they become loyal followers.
Few business leaders will ever be responsible for literally saving the lives of their team, but they are all responsible for saving their team’s careers, the company’s earnings, and the stock-holders’ investments.
These five principles that Shackleton relied on to keep himself and his team alive for two whole years, will not only keep a business alive but will see it excel, and achieve greatness. Finding men and women who display, and who live by, these principles will take a company forward.
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