Witness leadership skills in this great Antarctic adventurer, says Julie Wells

This is a leadership book you may want to read on holiday. It is billed as reading “like an adventure story” and it does. The book is truly inspirational.

It opens with the fact that Ernest Shackleton, while regarded as one of the greatest leaders of all time, actually failed in most of the goals he set out to achieve. He didn’t reach the South Pole, nor did he sail across the Antarctic, but as the authors suggest he “failed at the improbable” and “succeeded in the unimaginable”.

The book charts the explorer’s endeavours. Such behaviour must have seemed bizarre at the time but is now recognised as good practice.

The book is packed with wisdom and practical examples of how this rather average man taught himself to be exceptional. In demonstrating how he turned setbacks into opportunities the book provides an insight into why he was considered ahead of his time.

One amusing example was his asking every potential explorer at interview whether they could sing. He felt their response indicated whether or not they had “team spirit”.

The insights around how to put a team together and then lead it in times of crisis are some of the most insightful I have read. Shackleton believed character and temperament were as important within the makeup of the team as technical skill.

Each chapter ends with a summary of the “leadership lessons” demonstrated. There is also commentary from contemporary business leaders on Shackleton’s leadership style - which although interesting is nowhere near as fascinating as the man himself.

Julie Wells is an independent consultant at Transforming Health.

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