Believe in yourself, in the people with whom you work, and in your shared goals. This is a necessity if you want to achieve success when the odds are against you. Add creativity to the equation. If one approach doesn’t lead to positive results, then try another. Multiply these two elements with perseverance. Winston Churchill’s classic “Never, never, never, never, never give up” admonition should be a mantra in your endeavors. Belief, creativity, and perseverance have led individuals and groups to great heights when others have given up.
In December 1914, departing from South Georgia Island in the Atlantic Ocean, Ernest Shackleton led a crew of 27 men in a quest to cross Antarctica on foot, the last known unclaimed prize in exploration annals. As they drew within eighty-five miles of the continent, their ship was trapped by unusually thick ice. Originally called Polaris, the ship had been renamed Endurance by Shackleton, a term derived from his family motto, Fortitudine Vincimus, which means by endurance we conquer. This name proved to be prophetic.
Frozen fast for ten months, the trapped ship was eventually crushed and destroyed by the increasing pressure. Forced to abandon the ship, the men salvaged their lifeboats, camped on the ice for five months, and hiked to navigable waters. Amazingly, Shackleton and every crewmember survived for twenty months in one of the most vicious regions of the world. They overcame extreme cold, breaking ice floes, leopard seal attacks, a shortage of food and drinking water, and, finally, two open boat trips.
The most memorable of the small boat trips was a treacherous 800-mile ocean crossing back to South Georgia Island by Shackleton and a few of the men. Today, that achievement is considered one of the greatest navigational accomplishments in nautical history. After arriving at South Georgia, Shackleton led his team across the rugged, icy mountains, reached the island’s remote whaling station, organized a rescue team, and went back for the others.
This miraculous outcome against horrendous odds was attributed to Shackleton’s leadership. When interviewed later, the crew, to a man, said they highly respected and admired Shackleton throughout the entire two-year ordeal. Historians have claimed it to be among the most outstanding leadership feats ever recorded.
Shackleton never doubted they would survive and he communicated this confidence to the others. But his optimism was mixed with realism. When it became clear that the Endurance could not withstand the pressure of the ice, he made plans to abandon ship, set up camp, and search for additional possibilities. When they journeyed across the ice and Shackleton realized the need to discard weight, one of the first things to go was his valuable heirloom gold watch, which the men knew he greatly treasured. In the lifeboat journey through the frigid, stormy sea, he daringly stood in the stern of the small craft and meticulously guided its course.
Shackleton maintained cohesion and cooperation among the men. He constantly emphasized, “We are one – we live or die together.” He made it clear that he was in command but he was always open to others’ opinions and asked for input and suggestions. He led in open discussions each evening and helped build social bonds among the men. He stressed courtesy and mutual respect. Everyone, including Shackleton, worked side by side and performed chores.
Shackleton defused anger. He wisely handled power struggles and dissidents before they could take hold, even sharing his tent with the potentially biggest dissenter. He had to alter short-term objectives and keep the men’s energy on these objectives while never losing focus of the long-term goals. He found ways to lighten things up with humor and made sure there were always little successes to celebrate. His methods and actions eliminated what could have been devastating anxiety and despair among the men.
In the end, he knew that survival depended on a bold act, literally a do-or-die act, which was the attempt to reach an outpost by crossing 800 miles of tempestuous seas in an open boat. He took the chance. As a result, all 28 men not only survived, but they also became the epitome of the rewards of belief, creativity, and perseverance.
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 2500 events, can be contacted at email@example.com or 865-436-7478. His books, including “A Strategy For Winning,” “People of Passion,” “Are We Communicating Yet?” and “Anatomy Of A Leader,” are available in stores, at www.carlmays.com, and on www.amazon.com.