Learning Hub

Leadership in a Crisis – Lessons from Shackleton.

The question is often asked whether leaders are born or made. The clear answer is that certain skills and abilities help leaders develop but leadership is an apprentice trade. Everyone can enhance their leadership skills.

The story of Ernest Shackleton reads like an adventure story having saved the lives of 27 men stranded for almost two years with him on an Antarctic ice floe.  He is someone who showed supreme judgement in a crisis, and someone who has been described as “the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none”.

What is not quite as well regarded are the series of exceptional leadership characteristics possessed by Shackleton that came together to provide true greatness in adversity. All modern business leaders can learn from these.

What lessons can we take from him that will enhance our own leadership skills in a crisis?

Here are 5 Lessons for Leaders:

1. Optimism – Shackleton preached pragmatic optimism and liked to surround himself with cheerful, optimistic people.

2. Keep the naysayers close – when deciding who would live with him in his tent on the ice he went against every human instinct and paired himself with those who challenged his authority.

3. Everyone should feel part of the solution – Shackleton made sure everyone was doing something worthwhile to get out of the situation.

4. Be self-sacrificing – Shackleton never let his men go without a comfort it was in his power to give.

5. Remember the Mental Medicine – Shackleton made sure the crew retained their sense of humour and went to great lengths to hold small celebrations.

Of course Shackleton had many more effective leadership characteristics but these are some of the most important during a crisis.

If you are interested in developing your skills in motivating those you work with or improving your effectiveness as a leader our Leadership & Motivation programme may be a good first step on that journey. You can also learn more about Shackleton’s leadership from the book Leading at the edge which is available from the IMI Library.

Shackleton's Antarctic expedition
“The greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none.”


Did you enjoy reading this article?