Was Ernest Shackleton a Good Leader

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Earnest Shackleton has faced some criticism in the century following his brave adventure. In this paper I aim to explain why Earnest Shackleton is a great leader, what we can learn from his
experiences and how to apply them to our lives.

Submitted: September 20, 2018

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Submitted: September 20, 2018



Was Sir Ernest Shackleton a Good Leader?


Constant challenges arising from unpredictable events demand good leadership that will utilize the available resources to achieve the set goals. The challenges associated with leading during times crises have created a quest for success stories like that of Sir Ernest Shackleton whose leadership skills led to the survival of all the 27 crew members. Shackleton was an explorer and was determined to be the first English explorer to cross the South Pole; however, the harsh weather conditions left his ship and crew stuck 1000 miles away from civilization (McKay Par 2). It is quite apparent that this misfortune was unforeseen and almost unresolvable. Instead of giving up Shackleton devised a plan and mobilized his crew to use any available resources to attain the goal, and the outcome was the safe return of all the crew members. In this regard, the paper analyzes Sir Ernest’s Shackleton honesty, resilience, realistic and, inclusive characteristics that granted him the title of a good leader.


Shackleton ability to get every member of his crew home safely despite an array of challenges during expedition could be attributed to the trust that his men had in him which turn created loyalty. Trust is an outcome of honesty and credibility. Historical sources often describe Shackleton as a ‘brutally’ honest man who ensured that all the crew members understood what they were signing up for during the recruitment process. In essence, he informed the men that the journey was hazardous and a safe return was uncertain. Regardless of the uncertainties associated with the expedition the men had to be willing to work in constant danger under harsh conditions and for small wages. Shackleton ensured that all the men who he hired understood what they were getting themselves into which paved the way for credibility, trust and, respect. According to Esfahani, Ghasemi, and Tabrizi (Par, 3) credibility sets a foundation upon which all the other essential leadership characteristics emanates. For instance, Shackleton’s credibility kept his members inspired and focused, thus, allowing teamwork at a time when the situation seemed hopeless. Based on the presented points, the trait of being honest to make Shackleton a good leader.


Other than being credible, Shackleton is praised for his resilience and ability to remain focused under immense pressure. Some literature has even gone further to dub him ‘miracle worker’ in hopeless situations. After setting forth, the Endurance crew ship got stuck in ice. Despite the effort made by the team to get it out, it was clear that the only way it will move will be after the ice melts which meant waiting until winter was over. The chances of survival were minimal as they were running out of supplies and it was only a matter of time before they either froze or starved out of death (Koehn Par 3). Shackleton understood that the situation would de-motivate his crew members and, thus, he devised a plan that would not only keep them alive but will ensure that the faith that they had in him remained intact. Today leaders understand that the success of any strategy is the collective input of every team member making inspiration an essential element in organization; however, during crises, most leaders often lose sight of the main goal as well as the team’s motivation as they attempt to resolve matters that are perceived to be more pressing. Shackleton was calm and reasonable enough to remain focused to the ultimate goal which makes him a good leader.


The primary goal of the expedition was to cross the South Pole, but after getting stuck for over eight months in a remote location, Shackleton re-analyzed the situation and noted that the reasonable move was to salvage what had remained that was ensuring that the men got home safe. By looking at this point, it is quite apparent that Shackleton was realistic enough to realize that going after the primary gone was futile. Therefore, he had decided changing the mission from an expedition to survival and had to ensure that all the crew members were convinced that it was the right thing at the time. Every crew member understood that Shackleton was not the type to waffle after making a decision and, thus, they understood that he was a person they could count on. In the modern world challenges always aim at getting an organization away from its course of achieving a specific goal (Graham Par 1). Therefore, a good leader should be decisive enough to assure team members that regardless of the challenge they will attain the set objective(s). Based on these points, it can be argued that Shackleton’s decisive nature served as a form of motivation to his crew allowing them to remain focused and willing to make necessary adjustments to realize the set goal.


Another of Shackleton’s leadership trait that is admired today is his ability to consider multiple points of views when looking to make a major decision. Reports indicate that Shackleton encouraged his crew to offer him their standpoint regarding issues such as which direction to take or the right tactic to employ to ensure that the little food sustains everyone. After listening to various perspectives, he would come up with the final decision (Graham Par 5). Note that at the time, the society was used to autocratic leadership structure whereby the boss makes the decisions and everyone else executed the orders. Such a tactic ensured that the leader maintains the power to oversee all the activities on the ground; however, Shackleton dared to break the routine as he understood the value of inclusivity that could only be attained if everyone felt as though they are part of the mission rather than mere workers employed to help the leader attain his goal. By listening to all crew members, Shackleton ensured that every person felt included which served as a form of inspiration and hope that kept the team going during crises.


Based on the presented points, one can say with certainty that Shackleton was an exemplary leader despite criticism about his planning abilities. The chaotic nature of the environment in which missions are executed makes it impossible to predict the future meaning that a perfect can never exist. Therefore, poor planning which has often tainted Shackleton can be considered baseless as there was no way of forecasting what would happen. Instead, of avoiding trouble Shackleton choose to rise above the challenge by improvising the available resources. In summary, Shackleton’s attributes like determination, ability to remain calm under pressure and, decisiveness allow him to constantly remind the crew of the mission and keep them motivated regardless of the difficult circumstances.



Works Cited

Esfahani, Ali Nasr, Reza Abachian Ghasemi and Arghravan Taherkhanchi Tabrizi. "The Relationship between Management Credibility and Affective Commitment in Consultant Engineering Firms: Evidence from Iranian Organizations." Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences (2014): 947-952. Document. .

Graham, Cathy. "7 Characteristics of Leadership I Learned From Sir Ernest Shackleton." Workplace Navigator 17 November 2013. Document. .

Harper, David. An Introduction To Value at Risk (VAR). 1998.

Koehn, Nancy F. "Leadership Lessons From the Shackleton Expedition." The New York Times 24 December 2011. Document. .

McKay, Kate. "Leadershp Lessons from Ernest Shackleton." A Man's Life, Lessons in Manliness 28 May 2018. Document. .

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