Sunday, March 9, 2008

Shackelton and the Third Law of Leadership

How exactly did Shackleton get 32 men to go where no man had gone before? And once there, how did he keep them aligned and engaged during all the unexpected changes and disappointments? Well, this is where my Third Law of Leadership comes in.

To Be Powerful in the World, You Must Learn to
Co-Create and Master a Game Worth Playing.

While Shackleton held the Vision, he engaged others in making it possible. In other words, he co-created each step of the journey, from raising the money, to recruiting the men, to surviving the adventure. And he did so by painting a vivid picture and focusing not on wealth or riches, but rather on something else entirely. He focused on something bigger than himself. He focused on the challenge. Something that would make a difference in the world. That 5000 men put their hands up was certainly proof that his Vision sparked the imagination of many.

Now the amazing thing was that as circumstances changed Shackleton simply repeated a specific process again and again and again. Establish the Mission, align, engage, fail, create a new Mission, align, engage, fail, create yet another Mission, align, engage, succeed. It wasn't just his Mission, but theirs, too, and in every case he succeeded at doing what many contemporary business executives fail to do. He was able to align and engage each and every one of his people in an ever changing hostile environment. The result was one of the greatest adventures stories of all time.

"In the face of changing circumstances and constant danger, Shackleton remained positive and decisive, which buoyed his crew. Further, throughout the 22-month Endurance expedition, Shackleton was able to bring out the best in each of his men. Each crew member contributed to the team's survival, from Captain Frank Worsley, whose exceptional navigation guided the men to both Elephant and South Georgia Islands; to carpenter Chippy McNeish, who reinforced the lifeboats; to cook Charles Green, who created meals day after day with limited resources; to Alexander Macklin and James McIlroy, the two doctors, who saved steward Perce Blackborow from gangrene resulting from frostbite; to second-in-command Frank Wild, who served as leader of the 21 men on Elephant Island after the departure of Shackleton and companions for South Georgia...Shackleton also encouraged esprit de corps by dissolving traditional hierarchies. For example, all men were required to take shifts on watch and scrubbing the deck." (Source Shackleton's Arctic Adventure, WBGH Educational Foundation)

Engaging people requires a Leader who authentically knows himself (Law I), who understands humanity and is able to master multiple relationships (Law 2) and Co-create a Game Worth Playing (Law 3) where each member of the crew feels:

1. Part of something meaningful
2. Challenged
3. Appreciated
4. Responsible for the outcome

That "Twenty-eight ordinary-turned-extraordinary men, led by Shackleton's example, survived nearly two years of unimaginable hardship at the end of the Earth," is a testament to how authentic leadership can interface with ordinary people and create extraordinary results.

Thanks to Wikipedia and WGBH for their engaging material. If you’d like to read the entire riveting story of Shackleton’s greatest adventure, I recommend that you read The Endurance, by Caroline Alexander. Knopf Press ©1998.

Sail on.

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