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Sir Ernest Shackleton and The Endurance

In 1914 the following ad ran in the London newspapers: “Men wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”

Imagine the type of person Ernest Shackleton was in search of? And we think we have recruiting problems. Who would want to do this type of work? But many did, in fact, thousands applied for one of the most treacherous expeditions ever attempted. On December 5, 1914 The Endurance set sail from South Georgia for a 634 day expedition of Antarctica.

The journey of the Endurance is the well known story of Earnest Shackleton and his 27 man crew. It goes a bit like this:

12/5(Day 1) The excited team of experienced seamen left the whaling station in rugged South Georgia

1/19 (Day 45) The first disaster struck. The Weddell Sea froze and closed around them like a vise.

• Two attempts to free The Endurance failed moving only 150 yards in two days.

2/24(Day 84) The crew resigned themselves to spending the winter on board; there they stayed until mid-July.

7/20 (Day 232) Ice pressure tightened, pumps failed, water poured into the ship, timbers began to crack. They were undeterred.

10/27(Day 332) Masts tumbled and the ice ripped through the timbers. It was time to leave the safety of the ship and camp on the frozen ice.

  • They attempted to march across hundreds of miles of frozen ice.
  • They endured the grueling task of pulling hundred pound sleds and life boats.
  • After two days they had gone less than two miles.

10/30(Day 335) They made camp on the ice floe for 49 days.

12/18 (Day 384) They made one more attempt to drag the boats to open water.

  • Another unsuccessful attempt
  • Food was low, eating local seals to survive and there they remained until spring.

4/ 9 (Day 491) Finally, the ice cracked beneath them and opened the sea to travel.

  • They spent the next five days in freezing water as it tumbled over them it and froze to their clothes.
  • They were weak, sick and craving fresh water and food. Imagine the coldest moment of your life, if you can and the day you were the most hungry and so sick with diarrhea you could barely move and imagine that you now must build shelter.

4/15(Day 497) They camped on Elephant Island on the first solid ground in 497 days.

  • Snow was a mixture of frozen penguin guano which melted producing a foul smelling yellow mud
  • There was little food and outlook was bleak. What would they we do now?

4/23(Day 506) Shackleton sent a rescue team to find help leaving them hopelessly abandoned on the island.

5/10(Day 523) 16 days later over treacherous waters, the small band of exhausted sailors landed on the wrong side of South Georgia.

8/30 (Day 634) It took three attempts to rescue the crew.

Final Journal entry reads: Rescued! August 30, 1916 All well! At last! All ahead Full.

In the same time period another crew, The Karluk launched a similar expedition to the North and all perished. What made the difference? Many have speculated about both tales and the conclusion is usually the same…leadership and team work.

As we approach our challenging goals, one can only conclude that our task is miniscule compared to Shackleton and his crew, but none the less important.

Each member of his crew took ownership of every task assigned them, no matter how unimportant it seemed against the gargantuan hope of making it home. Each team member saw their role as critical.

One of the greatest lessons from the expedition of The Endurance is to never lose sight of the ultimate goal but focus your energy on the short term objectives.

What Are You Waiting For?

If the time to focus and drive is the when you are doing great…then this is the time!

One day, a wise Administrator told me, “If you are waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder to make something happen, you will be sitting in that chair for a very long time.” Jane and Charlie Miller successfully operated a small nursing center in Jersey Shore PA for many years. Though, they are both retired now, I still think of Jane’s message often.

As leaders, are we waiting for someone else’s idea? Are we confident in our knowledge and experience to recommend the steps necessary to grow our market share? As managers are we stepping up and leading those in our charge?

Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots rarely tells his special team coaches what to do; why? He expects they know how to be a defensive coach. He expects that the offensive coaches know how to lead their players and motivate them to practice the basics of the game: the block and tackle. Our leaders are expecting that as managers, we have a handle on our areas of responsibility, that we are coaching our teams; that we are instilling the basics of our game. But, it is more than that. Manning and Brady, Drew and Reggie call their team members in the middle of the night….want to guess what they talk about? They talk offense! They talk defense! It is a love and commitment to our game that matters most.

Nancy Pelosi is already known as having the smile of galvanized steel, why, because she promised in the first 100 days to make things happen. As speaker of the house, she was asked what one word she would use to describe her first 30 days. She answered, accountable. She successfully pressed through some six bills in that short month, unheard of in our slow political system.

The New Orleans Saints should never have been on their way to the Super bowl but they were… why? Because they didn’t wait for someone to tap them on the shoulder and tell them they could!

Whether or not you voted for Nancy Pelosi’s party or routed for Bill Bellecheck’s team, there is no denying their impact as leaders….they wait for no one else, they are not afraid to stand up and be counted when they are confident in their position…no matter how big the guy is! They make things happen! Every day, I try to remember those words from Jane Miller….

“If you are waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder to make something happen, you will be sitting in that chair for a very long time.”