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Perpetual: Reads | Endurance

Our summer series of book recommendations to empower talent and fuel brands.

Review by Nigel Robinson

As an avid fan of adventure and derring-do in both business and in the exploration of our planet, I would like to share with you this amazing story that is a legend in its own right as well as an example in leadership for us all. There are important lessons here that are relevant for our time not least because the Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-1917 on which the book is a story of making it through trying times and leading a team to find success when the original plan was no longer an option.

Endurance is set in a time, almost incredible to us now, when parts of the world lay undiscovered by humans and national pride compelled patriots to lead expeditions into the unknown without any of the technological advancements that we take for granted today. The South Pole had already been conquered by Amundsen in 1911 and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s idea was to complete the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. Unfortunately, the plan failed when his boat Endurance got stuck in ice in the Weddell Sea and the crew of 28 spent eight months held fast in the ice until the boat eventually sank. They were then forced to use their lifeboats as the ice began to break up the following spring and finally made land on Elephant Island.

Realizing that nobody was coming to save them, Shackleton and 5 compatriots navigated one of the lifeboats across 800 miles (the distance between New York City and Chicago) of inhospitable ocean to find help from the whaling station on the tiny island of South Georgia. Having been forced to land on the wrong side of the island the crew completed a successful traverse of the mountainous island before leading a rescue mission for the remainder of his team who had been patiently waiting back on Elephant Island for 3 months.

So, what lessons can we draw from this amazing adventure?

Recognize when you need to pivot

Well, the first is to recognize the moment when as a leader you need to pivot the plan and focus your team on what success looks like, based on your new reality. There are examples of good discipline as well as empathy from Shackleton and how these skills translated into good morale during what must have been extremely harsh conditions with mental pressures abound. Importantly, Shackleton exuded belief in a successful outcome and moved quickly to address any challenges to this mindset amongst his team.

No good leader has all the answers

He was also far from perfect as a leader and like all of us would have benefited from outside council and feedback that would have improved his skills. However, thanks to Shackleton’s ability to lead from the front, every one of his team survived to tell the story that has been used as a case study in leadership and perseverance the world over.

Endurance is an excellent read and I believe you will find your own golden nuggets on leadership and team development in this compelling page-turner. I also commend the photographs taken by Frank Hurley the expedition photographer which survived the journey and truly captured the ordeal.

The book is 5/5 for adventure and discovery. The true value for business leaders is achieved is by also reading the associated studies on Shackleton’s leadership such as:

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