The business world is on its knees again. Figuratively, that is, with an awe and reverence best described as Shackleton-mania.
As you may know, Sir Ernest Shackleton is the new management messiah in polar explorer’s goggles and snowshoes.
He’s the dog-eating survivor and hero of an Antarctic shipwreck in temperatures that turn your breath to ice.
According to the corporate world, Sir Ernest, leader of the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, is the ultimate leader. Certainly few rate higher for people skills and determination.
The savior of 28 men, Shackleton shepherded his expedition through 22 months of hardship.
The sort of hardship that kills with bone-breaking cold, ferocious gales, dysentery, starvation, exhaustion and the collapse of any hope of rescue.
For avoiding mutiny and keeping his men together and for nurturing them as individuals and keeping spirits high, Shackleton is the darling of business leadership courses.
Move over, Jack Welch … the man they called The Boss is no longer the model for leadership. Now you can swap GE for ‘Gee, wasn’t Shackleton amazing.’
Survival stories rarely come better. Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, was caught in pack ice 1200 miles from civilization and crushed to splinters in the freeze.
The crew was left exposed on ice floes for 10 months. They never reached the South Pole.
But it’s not conquest that makes this story a template for leadership training; it’s team management that ensured survival.
If you didn’t see the Kenneth Branagh docudrama, the IMAX show, the NOVA film or the George Butler 92-minute documentary, ‘The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition’, just wait, there’s a chance they’ll feature largely in your next executive training course.
Equally, there’s the book, Shackleton’s Way, which made the New York Times best-seller list.
The latest ‘Shack’ for our veneration isn’t a basketball star but a team leader who crossed 1000 miles of the cruelest seas in a lifeboat to raise a rescue party for his men.
This little jaunt, with eyeball freezing temperatures and 100-foot killer waves, makes The Perfect Storm seem like afternoon on Golden Pond.
Shackleton reached a whaling station on the Island of South Georgia and found help. Miraculously, every man was saved.
The famed corporate fix-it guru, ‘Chainsaw’ Al Dunlap, known for dumping staff to recover profitability may want to take note.
If you’re a football fan you’ve seen something of Shackleton. Patriot’s coach, Bill Belichick, is a devotee — he motivated his team to Super Bowl success with the story of the ice-bound expedition. In the current season maybe he should have done it again.
Shackleton’s perspicacity and dizzyingly high levels of optimism also serve as inspiration for executives in companies like Boeing, IBM and Morgan Stanley.
All this is great stuff. But perhaps the most applicable Shackleton lesson comes with his content ability.
The 1914 classified advertisement that pulled the expedition together is a deft bit of persuasion.
‘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’.
A fool’s errand made brilliantly attractive. But then Shackleton was looking for something often confused with a fool’s behavior … human endurance of heroic proportions.
Unlike some content today, this wasn’t over-thought or focused-grouped to death.
It’s the opposite of the thin, under-imagined messaging that makes too much content predictable and inert.
Perhaps the most telling thing about Shackleton’s classified ad is that he thought like his target audience.
So the message and tone are just right for those looking for limitless spirit.
You have a full story in just 26 words … a very expansive experience. Shackleton … what a leader … able to manage men, sled dogs and content.
If you’re searching for a change agent, remember that leadership courses aren’t the only way to get your products off the ice.
Strong content also does it.
So, how’s your judgment in this area? What’s ‘terrific content’ for you?
For us, it’s the Honda “Hands” commercial and yet another one from Honda … the Ayrton Senna film.
They begin to reach the Shackleton level. It seems the best campaigns and content have been to charm school.
They have the knack of telling a story with a smile. So, you might want to ask yourself, how does the content for your brand measure up?
Not to discourage those on the Shackleton studies bandwagon, but reading about great men is one thing.
In the end, you have to reach out for something more tangible and more results-oriented.
Like the 26 words that brought Shackleton response. Literally mailbags full of it.