Leadership: Inspiration, Action and Endurance

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of a lack of preparation, inadequate communications, no call to action and often falls on deaf ears when ownership is superseded and driven by factors beyond a leaders control.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.

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  • Geoffrey Anderson  On August 5, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    A great post as usual, and I can see how some of what you describe is how people describe me as a leader.

    In this day and age, it seems that many so-called leaders are more interested in consensus, and group dynamics, that they have forgotten how to make a decision, and move forward, regardless of the (at the time) consequences. In my (lengthy) time as a Product Manager, I have worked with peers and superiors who would go to great lengths to avoid making tough decisions (particularly around when to completely end a product line). In the case of when to end a product, each additional unit sold they would use to justify their waffling, but the damage to the organization (lost opportunity cost, morale, and defocusing on the bigger view) kept amplifying.

    Leaders who lack the will and the drive to inspire, lead, and endure often fall into many traps to justify their indecision. Paralysis by analysis becomes the modus operandi, and the depths of meeting hell where no actions result are rife.

    As a leader, the teams around you, whether you have direct or indirect influence, look to you to be decisive, thoughtful, deliberate, and fair.

    Most new product managers have trouble picking this skill up, and it is one of the defining factors that differentiates between OK product management and outstanding product management.

  • Michael Ray Hopkin  On August 11, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Jim, thank you for writing an excellent post! The way you weave an inspiring story with lessons in leadership is spot on. I couldn’t agree more with your statement about the leaders you admire most. It always (at least in my experience) comes down to their willingness to put you and others first. They remove roadblocks and make sure you have what you need to keep pressing forward. In very rare cases they step down or walk away because they care more about the people who work for them and feel it’s the only way to help them keep their jobs. I know one such person…he’s amazing.

    Thanks for continuing to share Jim.


  • Product Management Tribe  On August 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Mike – thanks for the comments and your efforts in product management and leadership. If we all had leaders who “moved the roadblocks” and often paved a consistent road for us, imagine where we’d be.

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