Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Shackelton and the Second Law of Leadership

"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.

My Second Law of Leadership states: To be Powerful with others, you must first understand humanity and master relationships.

Right from the start, Shackleton was up front with what it would take to join him on his expedition to the Antarctic. Anyone interested would share his Vision and know what was expected. Yet, as a leader, Shackleton also understood that the men drawn to his adventure would be motivated by many different reasons. It was reported that he received over 5000 replies to his call to adventure and only chose the toughest and most reliable of men. He knew that what made some of them rugged also made them dangerous in the wrong circumstances, as the following Wikipedia account demonstrates.

"Elephant Island was an inhospitable place...and...Shackleton felt it essential that he set out to find help immediately upon arrival, and to him, it was obvious that he must head back to South Georgia, even if it meant traversing 1,287 kilometres (800 mi) of open ocean in one of the lifeboats. The lifeboat James Caird was chosen for the trip. To prepare for the journey, Shackleton chose his strongest sailors to accompany him, John Vincent and Timothy McCarthy, as well as experienced officer Thomas Crean. Shackleton also selected the expedition's carpenter, Harry McNish, who immediately made improvements to the open lifeboat. Morrell argues that Shackleton chose McNish and Vincent to accompany him not only for their talent and toughness, but also because they were noted malcontents. He did not want the atmosphere on Elephant Island to be disrupted. Shackleton had frequently chosen to have the most rebellious crew members close to him, in order to quell discontent amongst the party. [my emphasis] The difficult task of navigating the crossing was left to Frank Worsley. Ensuring they were on the correct course was of utmost importance as missing their target would certainly have doomed the team."

At every step along the journey, Shackleton practiced not only the Second Law of Leadership with an uncanny ability to create relatioships that worked no matter what, but he made sure everyone understood the Vision and Mission of the expedition, even when circumstances drastically changed. He also made sure each of his crew understood what was expected and he wasn't afraid to let them know when they needed to change. Put into a formula, this is what gave him unusual success among his crew.

1. He always provided a compelling Vision of the future
2. He was fair and above-board in being clear on what was expected of the relationship
3. He employed each individual’s strengths and natural talents, and neutralized their weaknesses
4. He rewarded positive behavior and was quick to give constructive feedback if his expectations were not met
5. He walked his talk, demonstrated the courage of his convictions and was not afraid to engage

Understanding what drives men (and women) is important, understanding how to authentically engage them makes you an effective leader.

Next week: Shackleton and the Third Law — Engaging People in a Game Worth Playing.

Sail on.

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