Tim Jarvis sitting on a sledge in Antarctica.

+ Sustainability consultant Tim Jarvis will recreate Shackleton’s epic journey.

In 1984 I picked up a book that changed my life. The book was about Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. What caught my interest was his extraordinary success in leading a team through a grueling two-year ordeal. When he and his team were shipwrecked in Antarctica, hundreds of miles from land, there was no chance of being rescued by the outside world. Twenty-seven lives depended on Shackleton’s leadership. He brought everyone of them home alive.

Lionel Greenstreet, who had served as First Officer on Endurance, summed up how they survived in one word: “Shackleton”.

By the time Endurance sailed for Antarctica, Shackleton had already been acclaimed a great leader.  He’d been knighted and celebrated all over the world for the extraordinary achievements of his 1909 Nimrod expedition. Aboard Endurance, his team made notes that explain why:

 

·   Shackleton led by example. He never expected anyone to do more than he was willing to do himself. He modeled the behaviour and attitudes he wanted his men to adopt. 

 

·   He communicated effectively. At every crisis, he called his team together so everyone would hear the same message from him. He kept the lines of communication open through informal strategies. He’d strike up personal conversations and ask for his team’s thoughts and suggestions. 

 

·   He worked at keeping up the morale of his crew. One man wrote, “His method was really the constant application of small corrections, unnoticed by nearly everyone, yet very potent in their cumulative effect.”

 

·   Above all, he maintained a positive attitude and encouraged his team to do the same. 

 

Shackleton’s Endurance expedition had a happy ending. In September 2012, listening to explorer and Arup sustainability consultant Tim Jarvis talk about his upcoming recreation of Shackleton’s expedition, it hit me hard that this wasn’t a foregone conclusion.  

Responding to a question, Tim described his replica of the 22 foot lifeboat Shackleton used to sail 800 miles through the roughest ocean in the world. 

Suddenly I could feel the choppy movements of a small boat in an angry sea and the frigid spray bursting off rolling waves and splashing my face. The hardships that Tim and his team will confront became shockingly vivid. We know how things turned out for Shackleton. We have no idea what sort of difficulties Tim’s crew may encounter. This brings Shackleton’s accomplishments into even sharper focus.

 

In Shackleton we see the best of the human race. Like the rest of us, he wasn’t perfect but, time and again, as he led his team through a harrowing challenge, he sacrificed his own well-being for the good of others. In today’s trying economic climate and stream-lined workplace, Shackleton’s inspirational leadership is more relevant than ever.