A 35 minute interactive lesson with Prof. Nancy Koehn

Shackleton's Endurance Expedition

Section 1 of 11

Starting Up

What can we learn from one leader's actions in the face of disaster that will help us in the day-to-day work of leadership? How can a story of exploration from over 100 years ago illuminate the challenges that pervade our present moment?

The career of legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton contains many insights to be discovered. Let's get started.
Section 2 of 11

You’re forming a new team to undertake a high stakes venture. What would you prioritize when hiring?

  • Select the attribute you would prioritize when hiring
Section 3 of 11
"" ""

Men Wanted: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

—alleged newspaper ad written by Shackleton to recruit his crew

Section 4 of 11


Section 5 of 11
Section 5 of 11
I've discussed this case with many professionals and it's not uncommon for people to question Shackleton's decision to continue on from South Georgia Island. Indeed, the fact that Shackleton pressed ahead despite the warnings about ice from local mariners - who had both experience in the region and current knowledge of conditions - stands out. It is, perhaps, less surprising when you consider the overall context of the expedition.

Antarctic exploration was, simply put, a big deal. It contained the possibility of scientific discovery, fame for individual explorers, and honor for the nation affiliated with the expedition. Beyond pride, nations could use expeditions that reached new areas to bolster their territorial claims. That an exploration could function as a projection of a nation's power is particularly significant given that World War I had just broken out as the Endurance departed Britain.
Section 6 of 11

Regardless of the factors that influenced his decision to proceed, Shackleton must contend with his present situation. Imagine yourself in Shackleton's shoes. You're in command of a ship that has been immobilized within a sea of ice. What is your top priority as leader of the expedition? What is the first thing you do?

Peer responses

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Well, this is a very complicated situation. If I had to prioritize, I would choose to check on the possibilities of safely bringing back my crew back to island.

Am unsure if there would be any signals to convey message to the people back on island/shore. If yes, I would do that as a first thing and at the same time look out for other possibilities by working with team taking their opinions on how all of us could rescue each other.

S, India

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My first concern would be morale. You need to keep the crew motivated to either press onto the south pole or turn back. You can't have the crew turn on each other. I would probably first ration food as you aren't clear when you will be unstuck.

M, United States of America

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Take stock of resources - what provisions do we have? What equipment? How long are they likely to last? Knowing what we do and don't have lays the foundations for the options we can consider.

D, Australia

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My first priority would be ensuring that the "status quo" remains safe. In other words, I would ensure that supplies, water, food etc is consumed in such portions that we could survive for a little while, despite being stuck in ice. Priority at first is to make sure that the "lights stay on", ie.that people are safe and that there is a day to day level plan to sustain the current safety level in a ship that is immobilized. After that, we need a plan of how to move forward.

L, United States of America

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Keep Calm, And Think. How long can we survive? How long till the ice melts? can we walk on the ice?

S, Canada

Section 7 of 11

Shackleton's Strategy

Section 8 of 11

Consider the hiring criteria that you prioritized earlier:

  1. Technical Skills
  2. Creativity
  3. Grit
  4. Prior Experience
  5. Attitude
  6. Independence

Shackleton put a premium on attitude when hiring his team for the Endurance. While he did not foresee being stuck in the ice, Shackleton knew this would be an arduous and potentially dangerous expedition. Had he not prioritized attitude, managing the energy, outlook, engagement, and cohesion of his team would have been much more difficult.

Section 9 of 11

Consider your team: how do you rate its energy?

To work with the slider use double tab than drag. After dragging, if you don’t hear the value, go next, to the slider input to hear the value.
Section 10 of 11

What are the two to three forces that have the greatest effect on your team's energy? For each one, consider both what you can do to manage it now and how you can influence it through your hiring practices—what will you do differently?

Peer responses

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In my opinion the main forces that affect the most on team´s energy are:

1. The Leader´s energy: I think energy is adsolutely contagious, so if you have a happy, highly motivated leader you are likely to follow and get this inspiration from him.
2. Constant communication: people need to know how things are going, specially the good things, but also the bad ones.
3. Involving people in sorting out and dealing with situations.

As for the way a leader can influence it through hiring practices, I would say that the main thing I would do is to devote time to my team, give them the tools and chance to grow and bring people in with great interpersonal skills. Good teammates with a great attitude.

R, Spain

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My team is energized by having purpose, goals to achieve. Because they have the autonomy to manage their own tasks, they are encouraged to use creativity and receive the support of other team members when needed. Achievements are celebrated and I also make sure that they do not accumulate extra-time at work.

The key is to manage the motivation and each individual responds to different factors within their own function, so usually I try to know what the candidate expects from the manager, from the team and from the institution; what are the prospects career-wise, and what stimulates the candidate to engage in achieving the best possible results.

L, Nicaragua

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1) Momentum and 2) taking the hit as the leader and giving the praise to the subordinate on a win.

1) Look at things in shorter increments and be able to tick off achievements that people feel good about and show a series of successes.
2) Send out emails, mention in front of my boss and make sure others know of the successes.

Hire those w/ positive attitudes, grit and positive outlooks.

S, United States of America

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1. Budget allocation leading to project cancellation: Now, I could allocated several small projects to my team members so they have several things they can work on. In the hiring process I would look for people who are self-motivated and have experience in ""failing"" or project cancellations.

2. Internal blockades by other departments when projects are depedent other teams: Now, I could create cross functional teams that foster collaboration. In the hiring process I would look for people who would see this as a challenge to overcome rather than a problem.

M, Germany

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Purpose: The belief that the work you're doing leads to a greater purpose that matters. As a leader you should spend time making sure that purpose is clear and that people in your team understand why it is important. It links back to attitude too. Some people won't have the right attitude to follow a specific purpose. When hiring, you can understand whether team members have worked towards a purpose and how that helped them overcome difficult situations.

Cohesion: A team needs to be a team. When the team feels a bond, they become so much more productive. In the hiring process I would want to figure out whether people are team players or whether they prefer to work solo.

R, United Kingdom

Section 11 of 11

Loss of the Endurance