In my post Wanted: Product Management, I recanted the highlights of a story shared by Simon Sinek in Start With Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action.
The story of 19th century explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is a great example of Inspiration, Action and Endurance. Shackleton a veteran of Antarctic exploration, had a desire to be the first person to cross the continent from sea to sea, via the pole. Spending almost three years in a failed attempt with another expedition, Shackleton was inspired to take action and lead an expedition.
What role does inspiration play in leadership?
Inspiration – as defined by Answers.com is “an agency, such as a person or work of art, that moves the intellect or emotion or prompts action or invention.” Whether it was inspiration, past failure, a desire to explore the unknown or a combination of all the factors, Sir Ernest Shackleton was prompted to take action and believed the expedition was of scientific importance .
Is it inspiration or desperation that prompts action?
While inspiration and desperation both prompt action, I believe leaders who are prepared, utilize and learn from actual experiences, surround themselves with bright and capable people, listen to sound advise, set expectations and know how to engage others, find themselves better prepared to succeed.
On the other hand, desperation is often a residual of a lack of preparation, inadequate communications, no call to action and often falls on deaf ears when ownership is superseded and driven by factors beyond a leaders control. While desperation may be a great teacher, the results may not hold a favorable outcome.
Comedian and actor Jim Carrey, once said, “Desperation is a necessary ingredient to learning anything or creating anything.” The choice is yours.
Action – Utilizing prior experience, a well designed plan, the right equipment, adequate funding and a crew specially selected for the adventure, Ernest Shackleton set out to explore the Antarctic on December 5, 1914. However, the crew of the Endurance never reached the continent of Antarctica.
What happened? The ship became entrapped in ice. While everything was planned and double-checked, a meteorologist consulted and used during the expedition, force majeure happens.
Stranded for ten months, the crew watched as the ship drifted north until the pressure of the ice floes finally crushed the ship. On November 21, 1915, the crew watched as the ship sank in the frigid waters of the Wedell Sea.
As a leader, how do you react to crushing hardships and sudden changes?
Endurance – While you might think that’s the end of the story, it isn’t. Without a ship the expedition resorted to using its lifeboats to safely land on a small island. Shackleton, recognizing that the expedition party needed to be rescued left behind all but five of the crew and embarked on a hazardous journey across 800 miles of rough seas to find help.
As a leader, what are you willing to risk to save your crew?
As a leader, Shackleton knew what he had to do. He didn’t ask for suggestions, he didn’t ask for a volunteer rescue party, he led one. Leadership is about endurance, and a willingness to step forward in tough situations. Often, it’s the survival of others that are in your hands.
If you think about the leaders you admire most and are willing to do almost anything for, they are the ones that have stood beside you, in front of and perhaps taking the brunt of tough conversations when you aren’t around.
While we may not be Sir Ernest Shackleton, all leaders have to possess inspiration, action and endurance to lead the expedition. What attributes do you possess to lead your crew? What areas do you need to improve on as a leader? I have reflected on this story and taken an inventory of my leadership capabilities and I’ll be better prepared to set sail for the next adventure.
Please share any comments or thoughts. We’re all in the leadership journey together.