Learning from Shackleton

Emily Holbrook


May 1, 2012

Ernest Shackleton's famous Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition from 1914 to 1917 seemed doomed when the explorers' ship, Endurance, became trapped in ice and was slowly crushed, leaving the crew of 28 to suffer through nearly two years of extreme temperatures, hazardous ice, dwindling food, complete isolation and perpetual blackness. How did every man survive? With a bit of luck and lot of leadership.

Author Dennis N.T. Perkins dissects Shackleton's personality and actions, and relates them to traits needed of modern business leaders. His book Leading at the Edge uncovers 10 lessons within the first section, from the motivational "Optimism and Reality" chapter to the strategic segments about risk taking and conflict. All are rife with not only adventurous examples from the Shackleton expedition, but with modern case studies from companies such as Texas Instruments, Levi-Strauss and AT&T, and specific wartime examples of bravery and leadership from the Marines. All are powerful lessons that emotionally illustrate what is possible in any organization or team when real leadership is present.

The second section focuses on the behaviors, attitudes and ways of thinking about life that help individuals realize their full potential as leaders. Perkins also takes readers on his own personal journey in the epilogue, where he describes his travels to Antarctica, his continued research into Shackleton and the Endurance voyage, and his perspectives on success and failure and how to measure yourself as a leader. A final section offers readers helpful tools, including a critical leadership skills survey and a personal development plan, designed to aid in the continuous process of leadership growth.

The challenges faced by Shackleton and his crew are almost beyond comprehension. For someone to put each lesson into perspective from such a harrowing and difficult scenario is stirring to say the least. Perkins, with the help of coauthors who made this second edition that much more enriching, succeeds in crafting a true leadership guide for the 21st century.
Emily Holbrook is the founder of Red Label Writing, LLC, a writing, editing and content strategy firm catering to insurance and risk management businesses and publications, and a former editor of Risk Management.