What Leaders Inspire You?

Who are your favorite leaders? One of mine is Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. I’ve been intrigued by his story for the last decade.

In 1914, Shackleton set out on an expedition to cross the Antarctic continent for the first time, but disaster struck. His ship, The Endurance became frozen into the ice. When the ice began to melt, further disaster struck. The pressure of the ice began to break up The Endurance, and they had to abandon ship. After a couple of attempts to haul the lifeboats and their supplies, Shackleton ordered a halt. They camped out on the ice to wait for the movement of the pack ice to bring them to open water.

Months later, they were finally able to launch the boats. After seven days, they landed on Elephant Island—nothing but barren rock and seals. Shackleton knew he had to go on. With the largest of the lifeboats and five key men, he headed back to South Georgia Island, 800 miles over the roughest ocean on the planet, in winter. Through incredible navigation and sheer luck they landed 16 days later—but on the wrong side of the island. Shackleton and two of his men had to cross the mountainous island which had never been charted. After 36 hours of continuous walking they reached the whaling station on the other side. Then they returned to rescue the men on Elephant Island. Unbelievably, no one was lost from this expedition.

Shackleton showed tremendous courage, and the willingness to attempt the impossible. He knew exactly what he was after. After the disaster, his goal became survival for all, and he never lost sight of that goal. He was able to tolerate the loneliness of being in charge, of being responsible for his men. He could deal with the challenges of the environment, and also with the challenge of dealing with a diverse group with varying needs, even facing down a potential mutiny.

At the same time, Shackleton was always connected to his men. He was always aware of what was going on with them. He pushed them hard, challenging them to do more than they ever thought possible. He coddled them, at times, and made sure they had as much fun and entertainment as possible.

Most of us don’t face life or death choices, or an Antarctic climate. Shackleton’s story gives me perspective on my own challenges, and shows me that the impossible can be possible.

What about you? What leaders inspire you? Post your comment here.

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