Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Book Review: Shackleton's Way

As promised, here's a book review I did way back in 2001, followed by my present-day review of my review.

"Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell

On the face of it, Sir Ernest Shackleton is an unlikely hero. He failed not once but three times at his stated goal - reaching the South Pole.

Yet he is indeed a hero, simply because he never lost a man, even on his disaster-stricken 1914-1916 expedition. When a member of his crew was later asked how they survived the long months of deprivation, severe cold and boredom, he answered with one word: "Shackleton".
This book looks at Shackleton's life and translates it into leadership lessons for the 21st century business world, including interviews with more recent crisis leaders such as Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell.

Find out about teamwork, people-centred leadership, getting the best out of people and more. I love the way this is presented - a story that gives its own lessons.

Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer is available from"

I pretty much agree with my view then that true success is not necessarily reaching a distinct goal, but looking after people in the best way possible.

But I also learnt something about Shackleton and other remarkable people like him - the whole 'work/life' balance just doesn't work for people like this.

Shackleton was like a father to his men, but to his own family he was a well-meaning but absent husband and father. He was unfaithful to his wife. While not detracting from his good points, these other things about him show an unbalance.

And it made me think: is this the case for many great leaders?

Recently I mentioned I'd been reading "The Battle of Long Tan As Told by the Commanders". It was good to see the commanders not just in the heat of battle but right up to the present. The CO of Delta Company, whom I expected to have the most promising future, had a series of disasters: injury, disagreement with his superiors, two divorces. I read these things with a slightly hollow feeling.

Perhaps those who shine most brightly are actually burning out.


At 10:12 AM, Blogger Borscht said...

If we're going to believe that leadership is a sort of endowment, SY, then I also need to believe that leaders can't be perfect. I mean -- there's only so much that one human being can be great at -- at the same time - I mean, okay, you can be great at several interesting things -- but not completely skilled.

As such -- perhaps one of the sacrifices we have to put up with is the lack of basic living skills that a leader has when he is "leading." Think about how many excellent things we'd be missing today - were it not for these imperfect leaders bestowing us with their mastery.

I mean, I don't mind necessarily that a man is so great in one area and so atrocious in another -- actually, I kind of like people like that -- people who are so utterly obsessed with his craft that there is really nothing else on the planet that captivates him so.

I remember reading sth Nicole Kidman said about her ex, Tom Cruise: "You're just the right combination of charm and virility that I like in a man..." -- of course, this was a compliment -- but what Nicole's telling him is -- I admire and respect your ability to be balanced -- but the fact that they are now divorced -- perhaps it says something about the nature of perfection? See -- in the end, you can't be...

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Simon said...

Adam - couldn't agree more, that's kind of what I was saying from the other direction. Probably came across as a little critical of remarkable people like Shackleton, but was really just an observation.

Hey just found a great quote to sum up your comment:

"There is no such thing as a perfect leader either in the past or present, in China or elsewhere. If there is one, he is only pretending, like a pig inserting scallions into its nose in an effort to look like an elephant.
- Liu Shao-ch'i


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