Qualities of leadership

When the explorer Ernest Shackleton sailed in 1914 to the Antarctic, his goal was to cross the Antarctic continent with a small group of men. This dangerous feat, if accomplished, would bring tremendous honor to him and his country.

Unfortunately, the boat Shackleton and his crew of twenty-seven sailed on, the Endurance, became trapped in thick ice that eventually splintered and sunk it. They were only eighty miles from the place where they were to begin crossing the frozen continent on skis, and with dogs hauling equipment and supplies. The development forced a radical change in plans.

Suddenly Shackleton's goal shifted from exploration to the men's safety. They were stranded for twenty months under some of the harshest conditions earth can bring to bear on human flesh. Winds could blow up to 200 miles an hour and temperatures could drop as low as -100° F. The men had inadequate food, clothing, and shelter. Yet despite the seemingly unbearable trials they faced, they survived.

Shackleton's genius for leadership is said to have saved the men. He possessed important qualities that guided the men's ingenuity, their cooperative spirit, and their ability to withstand the physical demands.

Here are the qualities Shackleton demonstrated. Match each quality with the example that best illustrates the quality.

Leadership Qualities
Good judge of character

Examples of Leadership Qualities

The "Boss", as Shackleton was called, divided the dogs into six groups, and appointed a man to take care of each group. This led to dog racing competitions, which everyone enjoyed. Further, the plan enabled the men to systematically exercise the dogs. (Resourcefulness)

When deciding whom to take with him on a rescue mission, Shackleton chose men who may have caused trouble if left with the larger group. (Good judge of character)

When sailing on small, open boats in search of dry land in which to establish a camp, the men encountered stormy seas and bitter cold. They were caked with salt and ice, frostbitten, dehydrated, without sleep, and seasick. Shackleton stood up in his boat, despite his exhaustion and the danger of the rocking boat, so that the men could see him and keep the faith. (Courage)

Shackleton joined the men in shaving their heads. (Playful)

When the men were wet, drained, and exhausted, Shackleton kept his hands on the pulses of two particularly spent men. Whenever he noted a decline, he made hot milk and fed it to them. (nurturing)

Three men, including Shackleton, had to scale icy peaks in an attempt to get help for the rest of the stranded men on Elephant Island. All of three of the men were wet, had only tattered clothes, and very little food. Shackleton knew that if they stopped hiking, they were in danger of being killed in a blizzard. They climbed for thirty-six hours straight without rest. (Strength)

Despite the rigid class system that existed at that time, Shackleton treated each man as an individual. He discussed books with the sailors, considered the lowest class aboard the Endurance, and insisted that all men-including the scientists and officers-share the work equally. (democratic)

When something went wrong, Shackleton explained the problem and announced his well-considered plan for moving forward. (optimism)