Saturday, February 23, 2008

Shackleton and the First Law of Leadership

I took the midnight to 3 a.m. watch last night. We had finally gotten underway after being hove-to for a few days. While the wind was still blowing at 12 knots, the seas were beginning to settle, and the sky was clearing rapidly with a descending moon showing through the clouds at the horizon.

It was hauntingly beautiful.

After I set the autopilot and did a 360 scan for ships and other hazards, I found myself looking up at the stars in wonder. When my eyes got used to the dark the first layer of stars gave way to billions of others that are normally not visible to us in our light polluted sky at home.

Just then the North Star caught my eye and Sir Ernest Shackleton flashed into my mind. Yes, I thought, Shackleton was one man who exemplified everything I have come to know about being an extraordinary leader.

Let me tell you more.

"Men Wanted: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success." – Sir Ernest Shackleton.

According to Wikipedia, "Shackleton is most noteworthy for leading the unsuccessful Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, colloquially known as the "Endurance Expedition" or "Shackleton's voyage", between 1914 and 1916. Although Shackleton failed to achieve his goal of crossing the Antarctic continent on foot, he demonstrated the leadership for which he is now known when the ship Endurance became trapped in the ice and was destroyed. Shackleton, known by his contemporaries as "the Boss", led his men to refuge on Elephant Island before heading across 1,287 kilometres (800 mi) of the open Antarctic Ocean to South Georgia Island in a small open lifeboat. Upon reaching the remote island, Shackleton crossed severe, mountainous terrain to reach a whaling station from where he was able to muster a ship, eventually to rescue his men on Elephant Island. All the men on Endurance survived their ordeal after spending 22 months in the Antarctic...Shackleton was a key figure in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration...that captured the public imagination...for his leadership skills...[and his]ability to lead men through challenging conditions."

If you have been with me for a while, or have read my book, The Accidental CEO - A Leader's Journey from Ego to Purpose, you know that I'm committed to uncovering the keys to extraordinary leadership and making them easily accessible to all people, no matter what their roles in life may be. Toward that end I've defined Three Laws of Leadership and I contend that if you fully explore and engage them, you will will rise to the top of anything you might wish to do in your life.

So what's my first law?

To be Powerful in Your Life, you must first understand and master your Self.

I think Sir Ernest Shackleton represents living all three laws, but to examine being a Legendary Leader like Shackleton you must begin at the beginning.

You must know your Self.

Well, what does that mean exactly? I believe that when you know who you really are, when you know what you stand for, your values and what you are giving your life for, you can face any challenge or crisis with courage, conviction and decisiveness - and although you may feel fear, you are freed from reacting from fear.

When you know who you are, you bring flexibility to fulfilling your Vision. Shackleton's Vision for his Antarctic Expedition was clear and unswerving, right up until his fortune changed.

Yet, when his ship was destroyed in the ice pack, he lost no time in creating a new plan: getting his entire crew to safety.

As you read the history of this expedition it describes Shackleton as being decisive when he had to be and inclusive when needed to be. More than anything, unlike many adventurers of his day (and ours), it showed his highest priority was the well-being of his people and a willingness to do the right thing no matter what.

Now, none of us will ever be Ernest Shackleton, and my intention is not to tell you to "be like him!" Rather, I want you to understand that when you are clear about who you are, you will have access to something that most do not. You will have access to the invisible, which gives you the most powerful freedom in the world.

What do you think that might be?

Next week: Shackleton and the Second Law of Leadership.

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