Leadership Blogathon: The Endurance of Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton - one of the greatest tales of enduring Leadership

During the offsite, while we learnt a lot about ourselves and mapped each other on the color wheel, there was a story shared by our external trainer Mohit Chabbra that is definitely worth sharing with everybody at Text.

This is the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his ship – Endurance.

Sir Ernest Shackleton was a polar explorer in the early 1900s. Though Shackleton never made it to the South Pole, he has been regarded has one of the best leaders of all times.

He gained fame in 1909 when he came within 97-nautical miles of reaching the South Pole and was granted Knighthood subsequently.

During this expedition, in a very characteristic gesture he gave his last biscuit to Frank Wilde, one of his comrades. When Wilde did not take the biscuit, Shackleton buried that last biscuit in the snow winning Wilde’s allegiance for life. So much so, that Wilde’s bones are now buried on the right side of Shackleton’s grave in South Georgia with a headstone that says, “Frank Wilde – Ernest Shackleton’s right hand man”.

The story of Endurance started with the following advertisement in January, 1914 in a London Daily:

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.

SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON

 

5000 applications were received for this seemingly repelling advertisement. Shackleton chose 25 of these to accompany him on a voyage that would attempt to traverse Antarctica for the first time. Though he could not be the first one to reach the pole, he wanted to be the first one to traverse the continent.

Endurance set sail in the August of 1914 under the command of Frank Worsely. Shackleton joined the expedition in Buenos Aires. The total number of sailors on the Endurance were now 28, including, Shackleton, Wilde, his 25 chosen crew and a stowaway.

In January, 1915, disaster struck when the Endurance was caught in an ice floe (a sheet of floating ice) in the Weddell Sea, sixty miles from the Antarctic continent. Frozen fast in the ice, the ship began to crumble under the pressure of the ice around it. Shackleton at this time, ordered that the ship be converted into a winter station and that the team must wait for spring to arrive and hope that the melting ice frees the ship.

An eight month long wait in sub zero temperatures could easily turn anybody senile. Instead, under Sir Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, the team bonded even more. They behaved like school kids, played games on the ice and went on hunting trips together. They hunted for penguins and seals to use as food as well as fuel for survival.

As September came closer, the team grew hopeful that they would break free. Instead, water began pouring into the ship in October, 1915 and they had to abandon ship. Now the group was stranded on this huge ice floe, drifting aimlessly. They even tried to unsuccessfully cross the floe (402 km) and reach Paulet Island, where provisions were stacked for them.

Shackleton, then set up a more permanent camp on another floe, hoping that it will drift and take them to Paulet Island. By March 17 they were 97 km from Paulet Island, separated by impassable ice. On April 9, their floe broke into two. This is when Shackleton took his men on an arduous 5 day boat ride in life boats to the nearest island, called Elephant Island.

After 500 days of inhospitable climate, unbearable cold and hopeless situations – the team had seen land. This happened only because they were united and worked closely as a team under a truly inspiring leader. All of them called him “The Boss”.

Elephant Island was equally inhospitable and was not close to any shipping routes. The closest civilization was South Georgia’s whaling stations, some 800 miles away. Shackleton left with a team of five trusted companions and a lifeboat reinforced with oil paint and seal blood, to get help. This lifeboat names James Carid, was launched on April 24, 1916 and reached the coast of South Georgia after braving the stormy seas with a constant danger of capsizing.

They landed, only to realize that they had reached the wrong side of the island. What lay ahead was a 32 mile mountainous terrain. Shackleton left three of his partners at the landing point, and started to attempt the trek across the island. The three of them travelled for 36 hours straight without proper clothing or food to reach any civilization.

Once on the other side of the island, he sent a boat to rescue his team members from the other side of the island, while he started to organize the rescue of the team that was stranded on Elephant island since the last for-and-a-half months.

He had to undertake four consecutive expeditions to reach to his crew. The first three were foiled by ice, but the last one succeeded. His mission was finally accomplished, all his team members were finally saved.

Though, he did not reach the south pole, he was able to save the lives of all his comrades and even the stowaway who travelled with them. Not only did all of them survive the harshest possible climates on the planet – they formed a bond that was not broken through their lives.

For those who want to know more about Sir Ernest Shackleton:

  1. Wikipedia link – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Shackleton
  2. The life of Sir Ernest Shackleton – http://www.archive.org/stream/lifeofsirernests00milluoft/lifeofsirernests00milluoft_djvu.txt
  3. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-02978-2919-5.
  4. http://indigo.ie/~jshack/ernest.html
  5. http://indigo.ie/~jshack/Other%20Ernest%20Pages/books.html

Leadership Blogathon” entry submitted by Geetaj Channana, Account Director, Text 100 India

 Image source: thejfblogit.co.uk

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