BOOKS: A HUSKY HERO FOR OUR TIME - A life-long admirer of Ernest Shackleton, John Harvey-Jones acclaims an account of the Antarctic explorer's subtle skills as a leader. Shackleton's Way; by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell; Nicholas Brealey Books p

BOOKS: A HUSKY HERO FOR OUR TIME - A life-long admirer of Ernest Shackleton, John Harvey-Jones acclaims an account of the Antarctic explorer's subtle skills as a leader. Shackleton's Way; by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell; Nicholas Brealey Books p

by SIR JOHN HARVEY-JONES who was chairman of ICI 1982-87. He is nowa management guru and his most recent book is Making it Happen -Reflections on Leadership
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Shackleton was one of my great heroes from before the 1940s and I can claim to have read every book written about his astounding feats of personal leadership.

In fact, he is one of the only public heroes who is revered not for his accomplishments - he failed to achieve his objective in every expedition he undertook - but for the way he chose and then inspired his men. However, no written words can begin to describe the magnitude of his responsibilities until you have visited and seen for yourself the awesome conditions he and his people coped with.

During my service in the Royal Navy in 1953, I was in the Antarctic and so was able to pursue my obsession with the man. As well as visiting his grave at Grytviken, I also saw Elephant Island and retraced the voyage of the James Caird to South Georgia. This was tough going, even in a relatively modern warship with good food, warmth and clothing.

As we battled through the seas, feeling sorry for ourselves, I could not imagine then - and I still can't now - how any man could have taken on such an endeavour after months of privation and a diet of penguin and seal. And, after all of that, Shackleton and his two companions traversed South Georgia - a feat that was not replicated until the 1960s.

This book, Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer, for the first time analyses his skills in leadership in a way that is entirely relevant to every businessman today.

Shackleton was not a theoretician. He was a pragmatic, thoughtful leader who learnt from every experience and never neglected the details. He saw that his people had the best equipment and provisions he could provide and he treated every man as an equal and vital part of the team.

He and they knew that he never lost a life, despite apparently insurmountable odds. He led by example, and despite taking risks no ordinary man would contemplate, he believed that he was a cautious man.

The risks he took, as so often in business, were the lesser compared with shirking the opportunity. For most of us managers, our lives are dedicated to challenging the unknown. We know that the biggest business risk is taking no risk at all - but we also know that meticulous preparation and attention to detail are the only way we can offset the dangers.

Above all, we know, as he knew, that we are only as good as those we are responsible for. It is the commitment and skill of our colleagues that will carry us through.

This analysis of Shackleton's timelessly applicable style demonstrates clearly his methods of selecting and building teams. He did not believe in command and control, although he was more than capable of exercising these if necessary.

He knew that leadership is about hearts and minds. Hearts and minds are given only to those of integrity, belief and, above all, optimism. The Antarctic is the loneliest place in the world. The only strength you have is that of your own belief and optimism. You can rely only on each other and you knew - even 50 years ago when I was there - that no-one else could rescue you.

These are aspects of management with which we are all too familiar. Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell have done us a service by their practical analysis of the lessons we can all learn from Shackleton's way of doing things. I thought I knew everything there was to know about his expeditions, trials and tribulations, yet I still found my attention drawn to aspects of his leadership that I had previously undervalued.

For me, reading this book is a must. I hope it is the same for you.

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