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Huskies News · Lessons for Life – Lessons from Shackleton

SAVHS Lessons for Life allow our athletes an opportunity to look at athletics in a different light.  Each week a new lesson is introduced to our athletes to promote the development of the whole athlete – in the present and the future.

Lessons from Shackleton

Leadership Lessons from Shackleton?[1]

In 1914 an advertisement was placed in the London Times, it read: “Men wanted, for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant cold danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.”

[Ask] What do you think this ad was for?

The advertisement was placed by Earnest Shackleton for a team of Antarctic explorers to join him on a first-ever journey across the continent of Antarctica.  No one had ever cross Antarctica before.  It is the coldest, driest, windiest, harshest place on Earth.  Yet over 5,000 people applied to Shackleton’s advertisement asking to join him!

Does anyone know what happened to Shackleton, his crew, and his ship – the Endurance?

Due in part to some poor management and decision making, the ship and its 28-member crew got stuck in ice before ever reaching Antarctica.  The resulting story of survival is incredible.  For almost two years, with very limited supplies, they were stranded – producing an emotional rollercoaster of optimism and hopelessness.

In life we will face adversity.  In sports we face adversity.  Fortunately, most of us will never face the life-and-death adversity Shackleton and his crew faced.  From Shackleton’s amazing journey, we learn many important lessons.  With no food or water, every piece of clothing soaked, their ship destroyed, and stuck on the coldest, darkest place on the planet – how could they survive?  Much of the crew’s survival can be attributed to Shackleton’s leadership.  His lessons apply to all of us, too.

  1. You need unshakable faith in your mission, yourself, and abilities. Shackleton’s mission was to return with all of his crew alive.  They were stranded miles off the coast of the Antarctic continent, more than half the length of the planet from home and 800 miles across a half-frozen sea from possible help or safety.  Yet Shackleton never wavered from this commitment.
  2. You need resilience. Shackleton and his crew faced setback after setback – many of which could have signaled death.  Yet they maintained their stamina in the face of overwhelming demands, never giving up and pushing themselves to the absolute limits to survive.  And they did it with optimism grounded in reality.
  3. You need to focus on process, not goals. Shackleton’s crew focused on how to survive, rather than preoccupying their minds with whether they would live or not.  They focused on each day, keeping their spirits up, and managing the daily tasks that would keep them alive.
  4. As a leader, you need to serve those under you. Shackleton always put the needs of his men above his own, and he was always ready to sacrifice his own comfort for others.  One member of his crew explained, “It was his rule that any deprivation should be felt by himself before anybody else.”  When another member of the crew lost his last pair of mittens, Shackleton gave him his own pair.  Shackleton drew on the power of personal example, which, despite the frostbite, resulted in the undying support of his crew.

In the end, the Shackleton Expedition never crossed Antarctica. They never even reached the Antarctic continent. But he delivered all 27 of his men home safely—and that remarkable accomplishment and the extraordinary events surrounding his voyage have made the Shackleton Expedition the stuff of legend.

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“Shackleton’s first thought was for the men under him. He didn’t care if he went without a shirt on his back so long as the men he was leading had sufficient clothing.” –Lionel Greenstreet, First Officer

[Ask]  What does having unshakable faith in your mission, yourself, and abilities mean to you and this team?

How do we push ourselves to the limits and show resilience? 

What’s the difference between goals and systems – in life and in sports?   

[Examples from James Clear you may wish to us include:

  • “If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.”]

As a leader, in what ways can you serve those under you?  

[1] A product of the SAVHS Athletics Department.  Inspiration from Endurance, by Alfred Lancing and Leadership Lessons from Earnest Shackleton, by Brett and Kate McKay.  Systems versus goals examples from James Clear.