Black and white photograph taken in 1916 showing six men launching a small, boat into the ocean off an icy headland. [Credit: Probably by Frank Hurley, the expedition's photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

+ What makes a great leader? The 800 nautical mile voyage across a freezing ocean made by Sir Ernest Shackleton and five companions in the James Caird (pictured) is considered one of the greatest small-boat journeys ever accomplished. [Credit: Probably by Frank Hurley, the expedition's photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

In January 2013, I’ll be part of the Shackleton Epic, a re-enactment of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s incredible 1916 Antarctic journey of survival. A film of the expedition will reveal the status of the Antarctic ice melt, feature highlights of the journey, raise awareness of global environmental challenges and enable us all to learn from Shackleton's legacy as a model leader.

A crew of five British and Australian adventurers will join expedition leader Tim Jarvis to re-enact Shackleton’s perilous journey, while I’ll work as part of Arup’s six-person team on the expedition’s support vessel. There I’ll help to deliver a custom-designed leadership experience for participants inspired by Shackleton’s own leadership approach.

We’re going to base this experience on Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morrell. As in Morrell’s book, we’ll explore the remarkable leadership strategies Shackleton employed for 19 months while leading his crew across treacherous ice, through uncharted waters, and over a murderous mountain to safety.

I believe business can learn a lot from Shackleton's approach. Shackleton didn't drive; he led. When an individual got into difficulty through cold or hunger, he would order hot milk or a special ration for every member of the crew, not just the person in strife. He spent time with his crew individually and built a genuine relationship with each of them as human beings, yet maintained the right and obligation to lead them.

My take is that Shackleton's story shows how tough love works. His care and attention to his crew enabled them to achieve an impossible victory in the face of the direst circumstances one can imagine.

We’ll aim to make the skills and lessons learned in the expedition context fully transferable to the business environment, focusing on three themes that my Arup colleague and expedition leader Tim Jarvis has identified: the importance of learning by doing; the courage to intelligently embrace risk; and the need to focus on milestones, yet be flexible enough to respond to change.

At Arup, we have a number of leadership programmes already, which use an experiential, team-based approach in line with our culture. So we’ll also be looking out for ways in which Shackleton's legacy can help us shape these programmes to create even more effective, flexible and enduring leaders at Arup.

Of course, I expect to be able to share more insights after we have completed our 56-day journey on the Antarctic sea, and witnessed the re-enactment of Shackleton's journey by Tim and his crew.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how we can create and share leadership stories from the Shackleton Epic expedition and raise global awareness of the impacts of climate change.