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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 June 13, 2019

    15 Best Entrepreneurs Books to Start Reading Now to Be Successful

    15 Best Entrepreneurs Books to Start Reading Now to Be Successful

    Knowledge is power, and you’re going to need a lot of it if you’re going to be able to steer your business to success.

    Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 15 best entrepreneurs books to get inspirations about success and grow your business.

    1. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

      This book has been dubbed the Granddaddy of All Motivational Literature, and it was actually the first book that gave a prescription of what it takes to be a winner.

      Napoleon Hill draws from the stories of millionaires like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison to illustrate the principles he put forth.

      Get the book here!

      2. The Lean Startup by Eric Reis

        A lot of startups end up failing, but many of these failures are actually avoidable. The Lean Startup provides a different approach that is now being adopted all over the world and changing the way that companies are developed and products are being launched.

        In The Lean Startup, Eric Reis describes what is required for a company to penetrate the fog of uncertainty in order to discover a path to a sustainable and successful business.

        Get the book here!

        3. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

          In a revised edition of the 150,000-copy bestseller, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber refutes some of the myths that surround starting your own business and shows just how commonplace assumptions can end up getting in the way of being able to run a successful business.

          Gerber succeeds in walking the reader through the steps that occur in the life of a business, from infancy, through the pains of growing as an adolescent, to the perspective of the mature entrepreneur.

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          Get the book here!

          4. Rework by Jason Fried

            Most of the business books that you get today will give you the same advice: draft a business plan, study the competition, look for investors, and all that.

            However, Rework shows you a more effective, easier and faster means of succeeding when running a business. By reading it, you’ll be able to know why some plans are harmful, why you don’t really need to get investors, and why you’re better of shutting out your competition.

            Get the book here!

            5. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

              This is one of the most successful motivational books in history, selling well over 15 million copies since it was released in 1936. The book is timeless, and it appeals to businesses, self-help startups, and general readers.

              Carnegie believes that a lot of successes come from an ability to communicate rather than having brilliant insights. In his book, he teaches how to value others and make them feel appreciated and loved.

              Get the book here!

              6. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

                Through this amazing book, Malcolm Gladwell is able to take the reader on an intellectual journey through the world of ‘outliers’. He asks the question of what truly differentiates high-achievers.

                His answer to this question is that we tend to pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and less attention to where they are actually from.

                Get the book here!

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                7. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

                  This is the best personal finance book ever written. It tells the story of Kiyosaki and his two fathers; his real father, and that of his best friend (his rich dad), as well as how the two men helped him shape his opinions on money and investing.

                  It refutes the myth that you need to earn high to become rich, and it distinguishes between working for money and having money work for you.

                  Get the book here!

                  8. The Ascent of Money: The Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson

                    Niall Ferguson, in this book, follows the money to tell the story behind the evolution of the word’s financial system, from the beginning way back in ancient Mesopotamia to the latest occurrences in what he had dubbed Planet Finance.

                    Fergusson also reveals financial history as the backstory behind our very own history, with an argument that the evolution of debt and credit is as significant as the history of technological innovation and the rise of civilization.

                    Get the book here!

                    9. Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis

                      Michael Lewis landed a job at Salomon Brothers after getting out of the London School of Economics and Princeton within three years, he had risen to the rank of bond salesman, making millions for the firm and cashing out steadily.

                      Liar’s Poker is the amalgamation of these years — a look behind the scenes at one of the most turbulent times in American business. His book is Lewis’s account of an era where greed and gluttony were the order of the day.

                      Get the book here!

                      10. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Michael H. Pink

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                        A lot of people see money as the best motivator. Michael pink says it’s a mistake.

                        In this provocative book, he asserts that the secret to high performance anywhere is the need to direct our lives, to learn and create, and to do better by our world and ourselves.

                        Get the book here!

                        11. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

                          Outdated methods don’t work in today’s world. In this book, Allen shares some awesome methods for stress-free performance that he has shared with thousands of people all over the world.

                          His premise? That productivity is proportional to your ability to relax.

                          Get the book here!

                          12. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

                            In this book, Stephen Covey presents a holistic approach for overcoming both professional and personal issues. With insights and anecdotes, Covey presents a way to live with integrity fairness, service and dignity.

                            Get the book here!

                            13. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss

                              In this book, Ferriss dishes on the tips he has learned from studying the New Rich, a subculture of people who did away with the deferred life plan and mastered time and mobility to developed luxury lifestyles for themselves.

                              If you’re looking to make your way in this revolutionary new world, this here is your compass.

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                              Get the book here!

                              14. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh

                                The CEO of Zappos shows how a unique kind of corporate identity can help deliver a huge difference in the way results are being achieved — by creating a company that values and delivers happiness.

                                Get the book here!

                                15. Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson

                                  From Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Records and V2 to Virgin Cola, Virgin Megastores and a wide array of other companies, Richard Branson is the rockstar billionaire that a lot of us want to be.

                                  Branson, however, did business by following a simple philosophy:

                                  “Oh, screw it, let’s do it”

                                  Losing My Virginity is an unusual, borderline outrageous autobiography of one of the greatest business geniuses in the world. Branson and his friends named their business “Virgin” because that was what they were — virgins at the game.

                                  Since then, he’s written his success rules, creating a global business that has no headquarters, no management structure no corporate identity as it were.

                                  Get the book here!

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                                  Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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