Leadership Lessons from Sir Ernest Shackleton

Leadership Lessons from Sir Ernest Shackleton

“Difficulties are just things to overcome” – Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton

The book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing is probably one of the most profound books I have read, and even though the book is about an explorer, the real value in the story is the great leadership lessons that it imparts. These lessons are as true today as they were then and the world is certainly blessed to have had such a great teacher, through his example, as Sir Ernest Shackleton. Many people today look at modern leaders for inspiration, when in fact the leaders of yesteryear endured significantly more challenges and difficulties than we can ever imagine. The leadership borne from such trials and tribulations is far more genuine and sincere and therefore so much more inspirational.



Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, CVO, OBE (15 February 1874 ? 5 January 1922) was an Anglo-Irish explorer who was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. His first experience of the polar regions was as third officer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition, 1901?04, from which he was sent home early on health grounds. Determined to make amends for this perceived personal failure, he returned to Antarctica in 1907 as leader of the Nimrod Expedition. In January 1909 he and three companions made a southern march which established a record Farthest South latitude at 88°23’S, 97 geographical miles (114 statute miles, 190 km) from the South Pole, by far the closest convergence in exploration history up to that time. For this achievement, Shackleton was knighted by King Edward VII on his return home.

After the race to the South Pole ended in 1912 with Roald Amundsen’s conquest, Shackleton turned his attention to what he said was the one remaining great object of Antarctic journeying?the crossing of the continent from sea to sea, via the pole. To this end he made preparations for what became the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914?17. Disaster struck this expedition when its ship, Endurance, was trapped in pack ice and slowly crushed, before the shore parties could be landed. There followed a sequence of exploits, and an ultimate escape with no lives lost, that would eventually assure Shackleton’s heroic status, although this was not immediately evident. In 1921 he went back to the Antarctic with the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition, intending to carry out a programme of scientific and survey activities. Before the expedition could begin this work Shackleton died of a heart attack while his ship, Quest, was moored in South Georgia. At his wife’s request he was buried there.

Away from his expeditions, Shackleton’s life was generally restless and unfulfilled. In his search for rapid pathways to wealth and security he launched many business ventures and other money-making schemes, none of which prospered. His financial affairs were generally muddled; when he died, he owed over £60,000 (more than £1.5 million in 2008 terms). On his death he was lauded in the press, but was thereafter largely forgotten, while the heroic reputation of his rival Scott was sustained for many decades. At the end of the 20th century Shackleton was “rediscovered”, and rapidly became a cult figure, a role model for leadership as one who, in extreme circumstances, kept his team together to accomplish a survival story which polar historian Stephanie Barczewski describes as “incredible”.

read the rest of the Wikipedia article

  • Lesson 1

Be flexible in setting goals. Be prepared to revise and reset objectives as the context changes. Sir Ernest Shackleton was able to give up his long-sought-after goal of reaching the pole and focus on survival by building a foundation for:

  1. Camaraderie
  2. Loyalty
  3. Responsibility
  4. Determination … and above all
  5. Optimism …
  • Lesson 2
Cultivate a sense of compassion and responsibility for others. You have a bigger impact on the lives of those under you than you can imagine.
  • Lesson 3
Find a way to turn setbacks and failures to your advantage. This would be a good time to step forward on your own.
  • Lesson 4
Learn from past mistakes – yours and those made by others. Sometimes the best teachers are the bad bosses and the negative experiences.
  • Lesson 5
Never insist on reaching a goal at any cost. It must be achieved at a reasonable expense, without undue hardship for your staff.
  • Lesson 6
Create a work environment comfortable enough to entice professionals to spend the greater part of their waking hours there. Allow for some personal preferences.
  • Lesson 7
Match the person to the position. Be observant of the types of people who are working for your and what jobs might best suit their personalities as well as their experience.
  • Lesson 8
Give consistent feedback on performance. Most workers feel they don’t get nearly enough words of praise and encouragement.
  • Lesson 9
Be tolerant. Know each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, and set reasonable expectations.
  • Lesson 10
When crisis strikes, immediately address your staff. Take charge of the situation, offer a plan of action, ask for support, and show absolute confidence in a positive outcome.
  • Lesson 11
Plan several options in detail. Get a grasp of the possible consequences of each, always keeping your eye on the big picture.
  • Lesson 12
Defuse tension. In high-stress situations use humor to put people at ease, and keep your staff busy.
  • Lesson 13
Let go of the past. Don’t waste time or energy regretting past mistakes or fretting over what you can’t change.
  • Lesson 14
Be patient. Sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing but watch and wait.
Shackleton Quotes
– Optimism is true moral courage.

– Leadership is a fine thing, but it has its penalties. And the greatest penalty is loneliness.

– A man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground.

– I have often marveled at the thin line which separates success from failure.

– You often have to hide from them not only the truth, but your feelings about the truth. You may know that the facts are dead against you, but you mustn’t say so.

– If you’re a leader, a fellow that other fellows look to, you’ve got to keep going.



Lansing, Alfred. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1959.
Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure (April, 2009)  http://main.wgbh.org/imax/shackleton/about.html
The Leadership Institute
Havenotwanteverythingfornothing Syndrome

Havenotwanteverythingfornothing Syndrome

Something to think about as the year comes to an end.

Useless is the new “cool” in South Africa

Many people live only to live. They work only for a paycheck. They do only as much as is needed and nothing more. They believe that the world owes them a living. They believe that all companies are there to be exploited and used while it suits them and at the same time they expect loyalty from their company and it’s management. They offer nothing in return. They expect companies to invest in them, help them when they need financial assistance and thank them every day for the fact that they showed up for work. They complain about their salaries but do nothing to improve themselves so that they can become more valuable. They believe that the years they worked for a company is enough reason for them to get promotions and salary increases.

This is a fundamental problem in South Africa. I call it the havenotwanteverythingfornothing syndrome. Face it peole. There is a reason why American companies are so successful. It is because most of these people will not get work in America, and if they do, they will be fired within a day. There is no CCMA in America. We are developing a culture of uselessness, mediocrity and incompetence. Useless is the new cool.

Ask yourself. What did you do this year? Are you a havenotwanteverythingfornothing person? Do you believe the world owes you a living? Are you part of the IamAuser culture? I am sick of people complaining about everything, particularly about their own lack of success and achievement while they leave the office at exactly 5pm and sit in front of the TV the whole evening and do nothing. They are useless, pathetic and deserve their old age on a state pension. Those that work hard and improve themselves, I salute you. With you we can build a first world country.

The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.

Travel industry shakeup looming

The assertion by the airlines that overbooking is in the interest of passengers is absolute nonsense. Passengers that purchase tickets and do not show have already paid for their tickets, irrespective of whether they fly or not. How is it in the interest of passengers that airlines overbook? The only interest being served with this practise is the interests of the airlines who make more money because they then manage to sell the seat twice.

CPA offers protection to travelers
The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) will address this issue and from April next year airlines will be prohibited from overbooking. Passengers who are “bumped” from a flight will have a big stick to beat the airlines with. The airline will have to refund the passenger the cost of the ticket plus interest and any costs the passenger incurred as a result of being “bumped”. This includes accommodation and car rental.

Anyone in the retail travel industry will understand the stress when called by irate consumers because the airline has cancelled flights or bumped passengers. The consumer has no interest in the airline because they are the client of the travel agent and the travel agent has control over the airline, right? Wrong. The travel agent has zero control over the shenanigans of the airlines. They are a law unto themselves and for many years they have acted only in their own interests. Of all industries I rate the airlines as having the worst customer satisfaction rating. Customer centric is not a term that they understand. Sometimes I am astounded by their arrogance. It is time that things change and hopefully the CPA will be the facilitator of that change.

Overall the travel industry is wholly unprepared for the CPA. ASATA, the Association of South African Travel Agents has been conspicuously silent on this issue and have, in my opinion, failed miserably to educate and inform their members of the consequences of the act. I suspect that quite a few agencies will suffer severely under the act. The fine for not complying is severe and few agencies will have the financial resource to survive. One of the biggest issues is going to be the ability for consumers to file a “class action” lawsuit similar to what is common practise in the US. A group can now collectively sue the agent for misrepresentation, false advertising, incorrect information or advice etc. The consumer will be able to sue the agency for the shortcomings of the hotel or any of the legs of the journey. It then becomes the responsibility of the agency to seek recourse against it’s suppliers. Imagine trying to sue a hotel in China!

The industry needs to wake up. Contracts need to be amended, consultants need to be educated and advertising needs to be reviewed.

Overall and on the balance of things I welcome the CPA and believe that all consumers will benefit. Companies that prepare themselves and act in accordance with the act will have little to fear. Those that don’t such as unscrupulous travel agencies that sell anything to anyone without any interest in the client and airlines that believe they are above the law have lots to worry about. Hopefully they will be out of business soon and assist us to clean up the industry.

My advice? Get informed and get liability insurance quickly, or get out of the industry and buy a hot dog stand.

Marthinus Strydom

702 THE MIDDAY REPORT 10 December 2010 12:25 PM

Protestors move to cyber attacks

Staying with Wikileaks, you’ll be aware that attacks by so-called hacktivists continue on businesses that are perceived to have acted against Wikileaks. Amazon.com is one – Visa, MasterCard, PayPal are others. But Marthinus Strydom, marketing director of the McCarthy Motor Group, says we mustn’t think this couldn’t happen here. His point is that traditional protests have moved into the online world and that has implications for every business of every kind. He told the MR he thinks that SA companies should be aware that as consumers are more online, they will be more vulnerable to this sort of attack. A lot of companies are not aware of what is going on online and should take it very seriously, because consumers can destroy brands. They need to have a strategy around brand protection. Marketing and PR companies need to be engaged in this exercise and take it into the boardroom, see what’s going on and what people are saying about their companies online.

Guest: Marthinus Strydom
Organisation: McCarthy Motor Group
Position: Marketing director
Podcast: www.702.co.za/podcast/podcasts.asp

SA beware of the WikiLeaks ‘cyberwar’

As the unfolding WikiLeaks ‘cyberwar’ demonstrates, traditional protests have definitely moved into the online world. Marthinus Strydom, Marketing Director of McCarthy Motor Group, warns that we need to be aware of the fact that today, damage to companies, people and governments could come from online communities.

“On Wednesday top multinational companies and other organisations withdrew support for WikiLeaks and the result: a “cyberwar” of Internet activists who attacked its “enemies” web sites causing these corporate Web sites including Visa, Paypal and Mastercard, to become inaccessible or slow down markedly,” Strydom says.

“The real issue at heart here is that these organisations underestimated the power of today’s consumers who have become online activists – they either sing your praises or become cyber terrorists – your worst nightmare.

“In South Africa, a case in point is Woolworths attempting to remove a Christian Publication from its stores and being lambasted by an online community therefore having to keep the publication on its shelves.”

“Companies in South Africa need to take heed and plan strategically in terms of the scenarios that can happen online. These powerful super-consumers are able to voice their opinions very quickly via blogs and social media and will merge together for a common cause – as a group they pose a powerful threat to companies and brands.”

Consider the following staggering statistics which is growing daily: there are an approximate total of six-million web users in SA. A total of 14-million WAP users (those who use their mobile to access the web) across all three SA networks. There are 500-million Facebook users in the world – if it were a country it would be the third biggest on earth… in just four years! In South Africa there are three-million South Africans on Facebook and this is growing daily with 50% logging in daily.

“Companies that pull the wool over their eyes and think this can’t happen to them must think again. It is and it will. Consumers now have the same, if not more, marketing power as any organisation’s marketing team and online activists can damage a company, brands or people, within a matter of hours,” he says.

Managing Director of strategic communications company, Livewired PR, Janine Lloyd, concurs: “It is imperative for organisations to understand the power of these super-consumers and strategically consider the impact and reaction from these consumers to their business decisions. This kind of crises should not have happened. Did these organisations engage the communications experts to provide counsel on the impact of the collective decision to withdraw support for WikiLeaks? Probably not. Would the outcome have been any different? Probably.”

“Marketers and business leaders need to get up to speed with the digital world and its enormous power. We need to understand and plan strategically to integrate the digital world into our thinking and actions. Making critical business decisions without consideration or dialogue with audiences online is a big mistake,” she says.

“Understanding that we have little control or power over what consumers say is one of the basic truths in communications today, however companies must learn to engage and consider their online communities. They must even consider changing their business decisions based on the huge negative impact today’s super-consumer can have on their brands, company or people.”

Wikileaks and freedom of speech


According to Mark Zuckerberg’s law information on the Internet will double every 18 to 24 months. The founder of the social media giant Facebook probably understated the growth of information, especially after the latest escapades of Wikileaks with the publishing of 251,287 United States diplomatic cables. The impact of these leaked documents have reverberated throughout the world and caused a freedom of speech conundrum.

WikiLeaks is an international non-profit media organization that publishes submissions of otherwise unavailable documents from anonymous news sources and leaks. Its website, launched in 2006, is run by The Sunshine Press. Within a year of its launch, the site claimed a database that had grown to more than 1.2 million documents.

According to Wikipedia, “WikiLeaks has described itself as having been founded by Chinese dissidents, as well as journalists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists from the United States, Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa.” It has been a long time since there has been such a polarization of opinion over their motives, the quality of their information, the motives of their sources and about freedom of speech.

Although WikiLeaks consists of mostly unclassified documents there have been allegations that many people could die as a result of the leaks, primarily due to revenge attacks from Muslim extremists. Some of the names mentioned in the documents are purported to be the names of informants and spies.

Julian Assange - WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks is run by Julian Paul Assange, an Australian citizen. He calls himself the editor-in-chief and makes all the final decisions about what is published or not. Apparently he decides if the documents are safe to publish and if any person or people will be in danger due to the publication of the documents.  The US State department insists that governments should be able to have “private” conversations and that the leaking of the diplomatic cables is a violation of that right. Assange however claims that these documents expose the gross human rights violations committed by the US government in their fight against terror.

The question is whether the publishing of these documents are in the public interest or not. In my opinion the attempts by the US, British and Australian governments to shut WikiLeaks down and arrest Assange is the beginning of a very disturbing trend. The government doesn’t like what is being said and their response is to shut you down. Clearly that is a violation of freedom of speech. US supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor has said the court is likely to have to rule on the issue of balancing national security and freedom of speech due to WikiLeaks posting a cache of US military records about the Afghan war. Her comments came in response to a question about security and free speech by a student at Denver university. The judge said she could not answer because “that question is very likely to come before me”. She said the “incident, and others, are going to provoke legislation that’s already being discussed in Congress, and so some of it is going to come up before [the supreme court]”.

There is no question that WikiLeaks and in particular the leaking of this large cache of documents, is going to radically change journalism. The debate about freedom of speech is going to continue. Right or wrong, the website generated such an enormous amount of traffic that it’s just a matter of time before another 1,000 “WikiLeaks” pop up. The advertising revenue is just too attractive. Information and especially secret information is highly desirable and generates enormous interest and traffic. The Internet has once again proven that it cannot be controlled. For the time being WikiLeaks.org has been shut down but I am sure it’s going to pop up somewhere and I am sure this kind of information is going to continue to be published and distributed online and many people are going to make a lot of money from it.

It’s less about “freedom of speech” and more about “freedom of information”.