In times of uncertainty and crisis, it’s essential and completely possible to keep your character intact when screaming is not an option.
I’d like to introduce you to explorer Ernest Shackleton, who led a crew of 22 men through an ill-fated voyage to the Antarctic to safety.
Even though the job paid little and the journey involved long, bitter months of nearly complete darkness and constant danger, Ernest built in a routine, found cause for celebration, and, ultimately, brought his team home.
It is a story full of resilience, determination, and relentless leadership.
The crew’s goal aboard the Endurance was to be the first ship to cross the continent of Antarctica. It set sail in August 1914. By January, the vessel was completely stuck in ice. The crew tried physically moving the ice, which was 18 feet thick in some places, or the length of three 6-foot men standing on each other’s shoulders. They spent two months trying to unlock the ship before deciding to set up a base camp on the ice. They were 1,200 miles away from civilization. There was no technology for them to communicate. Temperatures were -8.5 degrees Fahrenheit. There were 17 hours of darkness a day.
Still, the writings and recollections from the crew reveal that Ernest buoyed their spirits due to his remarkable leadership. Tired and uncertain, as he later confided in his journal, he still focused on his team’s spirits.
Outwardly, he displayed energetic and enthusiastic leadership. He held the team together with routines as if they were still aboard a ship set out on the sea. They mopped the decks and prepared grand dinners, even as their food dwindled. They played soccer on the ice and got dressed up for celebrations.
On November 21, 1915, the Endurance sank while the crew watched from camp. And still, Ernest kept them motivated. They stayed busy with chores, continued to get haircuts, and documented their scientific discoveries. When the ice got thin, and they could feel the ocean under their feet in April 1916, they set out on lifeboats. They failed to navigate correctly to the nearest island and continued another 100 miles to Elephant Island, reaching that destination within about a week. It was the first time in 17 months they touched land. They were running dangerously low on food.
To reach civilization, Ernest and a crew of five continued their voyage to South Georgia. It was considered a suicide mission but was their only hope. When they arrived, half of the men were unable to continue. Ernest and the rest scaled a mountain, using nails to turn their boots into snow shoes. On the other side, they slid down a glacier to reach a whaling station, where they finally summoned help. It took three months for rescuers to retrieve the men who had stayed behind in the two camps in South Georgia and Elephant Island. In the end, all survived.
Throughout the ordeal, Ernest never showed signs of stress or defeat. He created a strict routine for his team built on consistency. He believed in the importance of fun, even in their dire situation. In turn, his crew had unabiding faith in him and referred to him as “boss.”
Ask yourself, how well do I respond to turbulence and uncertainty? Now, you’re likely not attempting to cross the Antarctic, but stress can derail your aspirations just the same.
How do you handle it when a third of your day is consumed by meetings or putting out fires? Is your job performance evaluated by your boss, peers, and even subordinates? Do you have hundreds of pages of technical materials to read weekly, or must you stay current on research to stay competitive?
To evaluate yourself is to grow as a leader. Channel your inner Ernest: routines and responsibilities. Delays, not disasters. Control and character.
If you’re interested in assessing your leadership style, Workplace Harmony offers various tools to help you evaluate your strengths and identify areas where you can grow. Drop me a line here.
To discuss putting some of this into practice at your company, schedule time with me.
Lauren Williams, Founder & Principle Consultant
Lauren Williams utilizes her 20 years of expertise in HR to support companies by improving and enhancing their people skills/operations, maximizing a company’s full potential. With care and passion, she focuses intently on the employee experience and how to leverage a solid community-based company culture that encourages organic employee engagement, retention, and empowerment.
Hi, I'm Lauren
I'm the founder and chief boss lady at Workplace Harmony. Welcome to New School HR!
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