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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 August 10, 2020

    10 Things You Should Do If You’re Unemployed

    10 Things You Should Do If You’re Unemployed

    Regardless of your background, times today are tough. While uneven economies around the world have made it incredibly difficult for many people to find work, the recent COVID pandemic has made things worse.

    Regardless of age and qualification, stretches of unemployment have affected us all in recent years. While we might not be able to control being unemployed, we can control how we react to it.

    Despite difficult conditions, there are many ways to grow and stay hopeful. Whether you’re looking for work, or just taking a breather between assignments, these 10 endeavors will keep you busy and productive. Plus, some may even help push your resume to the top of the next pile.

    Here’re 10 things you should do when you’re unemployed:

    1. Keep a Schedule

    It’s fine to take a few days after you’re finished at work to relax, but try not to get too comfortable.

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    As welcoming as permanently moving into your sweatpants may seem, keeping a schedule is one way to stay productive and focused. While unemployed, if you continue to start your day early, you are more likely to get more done. Also, keeping up with day to day tasks makes you less likely to grow depressed or inactive.

    2. Join a Temp Agency

    One of the easiest ways to bridge the gap between jobs is to find temporary work, or work with a temp agency. While many unemployed people job hunt religiously, rememberer to include temp agencies in the search.

    While not a permanent solution, you will be in a better position financially while you search for something permanent.

    3. Work Online

    Another great option if you’re unemployed is online work. Many different sites offer a variety of ways to make money online, but make sure the site you’re working for is reputable.

    Micro job sites such as Fiverr and Upwork as well as sites that pay for you to take surveys, are all quick, legitimate options. While these sites sometimes offer lower pay, it’s always better to move forward slowly than not at all.

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    Here’s How to Find and Land a Legit Online Work from Home Job.

    4. Get Organized

    Unemployment is an excellent opportunity to get organized. Embark on some spring cleaning, go through old boxes, and get rid of the things you don’t need. Streamlining your life will help you dive head first into the next chapter, plus it helps you feel like your unemployed time is spent productively.

    Try these tips: How to Organize Your Life: 10 Habits of Really Organized People

    5. Exercise

    Much like organizing your life, another good way to keep yourself enthusiastic and healthy is to exercise. It doesn’t take much to get slightly more active, and exercise can help you stay positive. Even a walk around the block a few times a week can do a lot for keeping you motivated and determined. If you take care of yourself, you can make the most of this extra time.

    6. Volunteer

    Volunteering is an excellent way to use extra time when you’re unemployed. Additionally, if you volunteer in an area related to your job qualifications, you can often include the experience on your resume.

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    Not only that, doing good is a true mood booster and is sure to help you stay optimistic while looking for your next job.

    7. Improve Your Skills

    Looking for ways to increase your job skills while unemployed is a good way to move forward as well. Look for certifications or training you could take, especially those offered for free.

    You can qualify more for even entry level positions with extra training in your line of work, and many cities or states offer job skills training. Refreshing your resume, and interview and job skills may make your job hunt easier.

    8. Treat Yourself

    Unemployment can be trying and tiring, so don’t forget to treat yourself occasionally. Take a reasonable amount of time off from your weekly job hunt to recharge and rest up. Letting yourself rest will maximize your productivity during the hours you job search.

    Even if you don’t have extra money for entertainment, a walk or visit to the park can do wonders to help you go back and attack your job hunt.

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    9. See What You Can Sell

    Another good way to bridge the gap between jobs is to sell unused possessions. eBay and Amazon are both secure sites, but traditional garage sales are a fine option too. Sell off a few video games, or some electronics, for some quick and easy cash while you figure out a permanent solution.

    10. Take a Course

    Much like training and certifications, taking a class can be a good way to keep yourself sharp while unemployed. Especially when you’re between jobs, it can be easy to forget this option, as most courses cost money. Don’t forget the mass of free educational tools online: 25 Killer Sites For Free Online Education

    Keeping your brain sharp can help you stay focused and may even help you learn some new, relevant job skills.

    The Bottom Line

    While unemployment numbers are still high, there are many things you can do to better yourself and move forward. While new skills to aid your job hung might seem out of reach, there are plenty of free ways to get ahead, online and off.

    Additionally, don’t forget that taking time for yourself can do wonders for keeping you productive in your job hunt. While it is a challenge, don’t give up–being unemployed can offer you extra time to better yourself, and possibly grow more qualified to find work.

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