Wednesday, 11 September 2013

"The Boss" was the greatest leader.

A hundred years ago the adventurer  Sir Philip Brocklehurst married in the society wedding of the year at Swythamley. The guests included  the principle families of the area including the Nicholson's. A telegram of congratulations was received from the King's sister Princess Victoria. The best man was the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleon. Brocklehurst had met Shackleton some 5 years before when the Ulsterman led an expedition to the South Pole which included the 21 year old Sir Philip. It is certain that the young man was mesmerised by the charismatic Shackleton. He would not have been alone.

What makes a great leader? If you were to ask to name an example then Ernest Shackleton would certainly be close to the top of the list. The remarkable 1914-7 Polar expedition lay in the future which cemented his reputation for command for all time. He lost his ship Endurance in the ice , but led his crew to safety after a two year titanic struggle. When the ship finally sank he allowed each member of the expedition to carry only a few items necessary for survival- one took a banjo! For months the men camped on a large floe, hoping that it would drift towards Paulet Island approximately 250 miles away, where it was known that stores existed. They spent months in the darkness and cold of a polar winter huddled together for warmth in tents so thin that the Moon could be seen through the sides.  After the thaw the men took to three  lifeboats. They fought huge seas before landing on the storm lashed Elephant Island. The crew were cold, hungry and so thirsty that their tongues swelled. Shackleton showed his concern for his men by giving his mittens to the expedition's photographer Frank Hurley as a result he suffered frost bite.  Eventually Shackleton took a small group  leaving the majority on Elephant Island and sailed 800 miles to South Georgia. On landing they climbed over frozen  mountain peaks with only very basic climbing equipment before reaching a whaling station and safety. Shackleton then turned around and rescued the 22 men left on Elephant Island after three attempts foiled by sea ice and worsening weather.  No one was lost in this heroic struggle for survival.

“The Boss” as the crew called him based his leadership skills on a foundation of experience, trust, courage and optimism. Many years later the First Officer of the Endurance Lionel Greenstreet was asked “ How did you survive when so many expeditions perished”. The old man replied in one word “ Shackleton”.