I recently returned from a life-changing trip to Antarctica, and the journey was so much more than the scenery and wildlife. For me, it was about my lifelong connection to the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton; the 100th anniversary celebrations of his incredible voyage to Antarctica; and his unrelenting perseverance to survive even when all seemed lost.
Sir Ernest Shackleton was a pioneer, an explorer, but above all an exceptional leader. He captained an expedition from London to Antarctica that began in 1914 and ended in early 1915 when his ship became trapped in ice. Shackleton guided his 28-man crew through incredible adversity, icy waters and uninhabited islands for almost two years, delivering them back to safety without a single casualty.
“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 Raymond Priestly, Antarctic Explorer and Geologist.
His story is so inspiring to me from a personal branding perspective – while he suffered from incredible bad luck and personal challenges both before and after his 1915 expedition, his strength and determination remained unwavering. Shackleton has endured as an icon of leadership for many, and his story can teach us so much about overcoming adversity, the value of responsibility, and the power of determination.
I was so privileged to visit Shackleton’s grave at Grytviken on South Georgia Island. The back of his tombstone is inscribed with one of his favourite quotes from Browning, and it sums up perfectly Shackleton’s attitude and passion for exploration, his determination and his fearless leadership. Shackleton was so respected by his men that his first mate Frank Wild also chose to be buried next to him on the island, and today rests beside the man they called “Boss”.
Antarctica is a powerful, magnificent place, and it is rendered even more vividly so when you think about Shackleton’s story, and what it must have been like for him and his 28 men to stand up to its formidable natural powers.
You can find out more about the life of Sir Ernest Shackleton in Dennis N.T. Perkins’ book, Leading at the Edge.