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What Makes an Exceptional Leader?

What Makes an Exceptional Leader?


    (Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt adapted from the book Leading at The Edge, Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition, Second Edition, by Dennis N.T. Perkins, Ph.D. Perkins is Chief Executive Officer of The Syncretics Group, a consult­ing firm dedicated to effective leadership in demanding environments. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he served as a Marine company commander and later a faculty member of the Yale School of Management. He has taken his passion for The Edge to Antarctica, where he retraced Shackleton’s journey, and now resides in Madison, Connecticut. For more information on the book, which Perkins worked on with Margaret P. Holtman and Jillian B. Murphy, visit http://www.syncreticsgroup.com and http://www.amacombooks.org)

    “For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” — Sir Edmund Hillary

    On December 14, 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team made history as the first expedition to reach the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, on January 17, 1912, British explorer Robert Falcon Scott reached the South Pole, with five exhausted men. None survived the brutal journey home. Another noted British explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, never reached the South Pole. While failing to achieve the first overland crossing of Antarctica, Shackleton succeeded at bringing all 27 members of his expedition party safely home, after 634 days of unbelievable hardship, and winning their cooperation, commitment, respect, and admiration.

    Some one hundred years later, fascination with the race to the South Pole continues. And so do debates over which of the three Antarctic commanders was the best leader. To gain deeper insights into one of the most exciting and controversial chapters in the history of leadership under adversity, Dennis N.T. Perkins devoted a decade to research, including traveling to the Antarctic to study the trailblazing paths of these famed expeditions. As he shares in his book, Leading at The Edge, Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition, the polar adventures of Shackleton, Scott, and Amundsen provide fundamental leadership lessons for any leader — no matter what race must be run:

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    Effective leadership requires a clear strategic focus. With single-minded determination, Amundsen set his plans and priorities on winning the race to the South Pole, for the glory of standing there first. Scott lacked such focus. He assembled the best scientific minds and equipment available for an unprecedented research expedition. But he also aimed to claim the “reward of priority” for the British Empire. Striving for both goals, Scott failed doubly.

    Successful leaders are open to new ideas. As a Norwegian, Amundsen began with an advantage over his British rivals: comfort with skiing. Yet, he continued to refine his skills, importing ideas from the Eskimos and developing an integrated set of competencies — skiing, dog-handling, clothing, and carefully-planned diet, pace, and rest — for polar travel. Scott and Shackleton, however, were surprisingly resistant to the use of novel methods. Ultimately, both relied on the slow, grueling technique of man hauling.

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    Leaders need to draw on the collective wisdom of the team. As a leader, Scott believed it was his unique responsibility to analyze situations and draw conclusions. His decisions were closely held and sometimes revealed at the last minute. Consequently, members of his expedition had only a limited understanding of the rationale behind their course of action. In sharp contrast to Scott, both Amundsen and Shackleton solicited ideas and opinions from their men. Through this process, Amundsen and Shackleton gave team members a sense of control and value, resulting in greater ownership and commitment.

    The best leaders forge strong bonds. Despite their differences in personality, the ebullient Shackleton and the understated Amundsen had strikingly similar approaches to leadership. Both were acutely sensitive to the emotions of their men and skilled at managing conflict. Both emphasized individual ability above rank or social status. And both participated in everyday expedition life, including menial chores. “These behaviors, both practical and symbolic, reinforced the message of unity,” Perkins observes. Although Scott’s doomed polar party stayed together until the very end, his detachment, emphasis on hierarchy, and unilateral decision-making style created barriers to team cohesion and damaged morale.

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    Leadership success is often relative and always personal. Flaws aside, Shackleton, Amundsen, and Scott shared qualities — exceptional perseverance, determination, and courage — that are crucial for any leader. Was Shackleton a success or a failure as a leader? The answer, Perkins contends, depends on the yardstick used. Shackleton created a team that worked together against enormous odds to overcome staggering obstacles, and divided their last rations, equally and willingly. He led his team to safety through extreme hardships and hazards. Still, the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition did not achieve its goal: crossing Antarctica.

    “Shackleton can be seen as a success or a failure, or a little of both,” Perkins acknowledges. “I believe the more important question raised by Shackleton’s adventure is a much more personal one: How do you measure your own success as a leader?”

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    (Photo credit: Orchestra Concudctor Leading with Baton via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on February 19, 2020

    11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

    11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

    Are you looking to move up the career ladder? Or maybe you’re tired of having a “job” and want to start looking for a more permanent career?

    Whatever your motivation, you are going to have to learn some new and different hard skills to broaden your opportunities. After all, there’s a very famous quote that says:

    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

    While the insanity part doesn’t really fit here, the overall message is a good one. If you are looking for a different result (career advancement, more money or even a career instead of a job), it’s up to you to make it happen. This is both the good news and bad news!

    The good news is that because it’s up to you, you have complete control over it happening. The bad news is that change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit, that’s why we develop routines, and anything that disrupts that routine causes us anxiety. And we will do almost anything to get rid of that anxiety. The overweight person will calm their anxiety by eating that doughnut, the smoker will light up a cigarette to avoid anxiety.

    What we want to do with this article is to give you the hard skills you’ll need to reduce that anxiety so you can move up that corporate ladder, make more money or have career instead of just a “job.”

    The following hard skills are essential to learn if you want to advance your career. They may not be easy to take up, but definitely worth your effort of learning:

    1. Cloud Computing

    “Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, intelligence and more—over the Internet “the cloud” to offer faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale. You typically pay only for cloud services you use, helping lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change.” Microsoft[1]

    There are many different jobs available in the cloud computing world today. They range from architects and developers to data scientists, security pros. Each job is its own specialty and requires a high level of specification for advancement.

    This is definitely a hard skill that requires education. But if the tech world and computers are your thing you can make cloud computing a lucrative career.

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    2. Data Mining and Statistical Analysis

    Again, these are highly specialized fields. Data mining is defined as using large sets of data to look for anomalies and other patterns that can be used to predict future behavior.

    Amazon is probably the best known company to use data mining. Have you ever noticed that when you buy something at Amazon, you’ll see a little ad at the bottom that says “customers who bought this also bought…”and it lists 2-3 other items? All of that information comes from data mining, by examining the millions of sales amazon makes they can predict that if you buy item #1 there is a high likelihood that you will buy one of the other items too. T

    his not only increases sales for Amazon, but it also serves as a reminder for you that you may need these additional items for your project. This is very valuable information and has a wide range of uses. Although it has a bad reputation and evil sounding name, it is a very useful tool for maximizing productivity and sales.

    3. Data Management

    All companies today deal with a ton of data! Being able to manage that data in an efficient manor is not only highly prized, but a necessity.

    We all have these things on our desks called computers. Unless there is a need for a paper copy, almost all of our data is computerized. Meaning that, in theory it is all at our fingertips. Being able to organize that data so that it’s easily and quickly retrievable is why computers are replacing filing cabinets!

    However, just like the old fashion filing cabinet, data management on a computer is only good if it’s well organized. You want to make sure that you are keeping your data well organized so that it’s easy to find when needed. This is a skill that comes easily to some people (are you a person that makes lists? Good!) but with others it will be a skill that needs to be practices. Make sure that this is a discipline you master.

    4. Scheduling

    Being able to make and keep to a schedule is a very useful tool in both business and life. Effective scheduling means that you can prioritize projects, understand the tools needed to get the job done on time and that you are organized enough to lead people.

    An important point here is to write things down! Whether it’s in an old fashion daily or weekly organizer or in a PDA. Have a copy of your schedule available at your fingertips at all times.

    5. Financial Skills

    These are especially important when looking for that promotion. The higher up the ladder you go, the more you’ll have to deal with things like accounting, budgeting, financial planning and cash flow management.

    While you may not need to be an expert at all of these, you should have a good grasp of all of them. This is where taking a few night classes at your local community college is a good idea. You don’t need to become an expert, but brushing up on these skills will help you tremendously.

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    6. Research Skills

    These are important in all aspects of life, but especially in your work-life.

    Are you looking for that first job out of school? Nothing impresses a boss or hiring manager more than someone who has researched the company. Trust me, they deal with people walking in off the street everyday looking for a job, but managers and owners need to see the value in hiring (or promoting) you.

    So do your research and have some company specific questions ready to ask. Show that you are interested in working for that company or that position and not just “a” job or the “promotion” because you have seniority or need the money.

    If it’s a promotion that you are after, never bad mouth the previous occupant. Instead pick out an example that he/she was good at and explain how you would like to use or expand that policy and how it would enhance the policy changes you’d like to make.

    If it’s a new job you’re going for, then make sure to have some company specific questions ready to show that you have done your homework for the new position.

    7. Marketing Skills

    While marketing a companies products or services has always been a highly sought after skill. In today’s world, it can take on several different forms.

    Some of the marketing skills that are highly sought after today include, SEO, Search Engine Optimization, SEM, Search Engine Marketing and marketing campaign management. Familiarity with Google Analytics as well as Word Press are also valuable.

    While traditional marketing and branding were focused on advertising and selling. Almost all marketing efforts now a days are focused on the internet.

    8. Network Security Specialist

    Again, this is a highly skilled position that requires specialized training. But the amount of data that all companies store is significant, and if that data is leaked or stolen, it can costs them millions of dollars in both lost revenue and lawsuits.

    So, if you have an interest in network security you will find the field both lucrative and stable.

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    9. Communication Skills

    At first glance, communication skills may not look like it fits into the category of “Hard Skills” that can help you succeed. But in this ever shrinking world where companies can do business from almost anywhere, communication is more and more important.

    Are you bilingual? It really doesn’t matter what language you speak, there’s a company out there looking for someone who speaks that language.

    10. Computer Programming

    I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that computers are going to be around for a while! As both the hardware and software get more advanced, the need for computer programming is only going to increase.

    11. Graphic Design

    As of 2018, there were 4.37 million new websites launched.[2] A good number of them will fail because they just aren’t interesting enough visually. The use of templates and replicated websites is only making the problem worse.

    Part of the way Google ranks sites is through originality, this almost ensures that replicated sites will never get ranked through Google. So the more original your site is, the more likely people will visit and actually spend time there.

    That is what a good graphic designer does. Takes your basic idea and turns it into a website that people actually want to visit.

    Embrace the Anxiety That Comes with Change

    You know it’s going to be there, you know that you’ll want to give up as you’re learning these new skills but, you’ll also know that the end result is worth the journey.

    Here’s a little trick when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

    Have you ever met an ex-smoker who was sorry they quit? An ex-drinker or drug user that said life was much better before they quit? These people have gone through some of the most difficult challenges humans can go through including weeks, if not, months of intense physical withdrawal symptoms. They did it because they knew that the pain and anxiety they would experience would ultimately get them to a much better life.

    Now what was that complaint you had about attending night-school?

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    This is the part everyone hates, everyone thinks night-school, adult education and just generally giving up family and/or spare time. While those are certainly possible ways to develop the necessary skills, they aren’t the only way.

    You’ll want to check with your human resources department because depending on the company, a certain degree maybe required in order to even be considered for a position. In those cases, night-school, on-line or some other form of adult education maybe your best route.

    But as long as a degree isn’t required, then your options are wide open.

    Let’s just say that you’re a sales person interested in becoming the sales manager but, the territory you’ve been given will never produce the sales figures that would make you stand out as a good candidate for sales manager. So how about you start your own side business (don’t compete with your company), but let’s say you enjoy golf.

    In this day and age, there are plenty of places that will teach you how to sell products on-line and even set you up with your own website. So you start a site selling golf equipment and accessories (don’t worry, you won’t even have to carry inventory or worry about shipping).

    Now, when that sales manager spot opens up, you can explain that even though other salespeople had better numbers than you, it had nothing to do with your sales ability, it was more of a consequence of the territory your were given.

    And to prove it, you brought in some information about a side business, you started showing that you’re on target for a sales growth rate of 30% this year. And because you had to do all of the marketing for the business, you came up with some marketing strategies that you can bring to the new job (built-in experience).

    The Bottom Line

    We’ve put together these 11 hard skills as a way to give yourself a “leg up” on the competition. We’ve tried to make this a mixture of both skills that require a great deal of training, and also ones that you can work on and develop by yourself.

    We know that not everyone is cut out to be a cloud computing expert, but we also know that working on and having good scheduling skills will make you a much more desirable candidate for the position!

    We also don’t want you to discount the idea of a “side hustle“. Especially for people new to the workforce, having a business that you have started and run successfully shows potential employers that you have initiative, scheduling skills and ambition which can put you well ahead of your competition!

    As usual, we hope you found this article both enjoyable and informative. If you did, may we ask that you share it with your family and friends through social media. It really does help us and is greatly appreciated!

    More Skill to Help Advance Your Career

    Featured photo credit: Kyle Sterk via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Microsoft Azure: Cloud Computing
    [2] Netcraft: December 2018 Web Server Survey

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