Leadership Transformation: Think Endurance

White Papers | January, 2018

By Will Parkhouse

Is Survival Success?

In December 1914, a British explorer by the name of Ernest Shackleton, along with 27 crew members set sail from the U.K. in hopes of becoming the first to traverse Antarctica. What they encountered instead was disaster.

Within a month of departure, their ship, the Endurance, became locked in ice, floundered, then sank, leaving the men stranded on an ice floe. For months, Shackleton and his crew drifted, skirting Antarctica, and victim to the currents. By April 2016 they found themselves nearly 1,000 kilometres from their original destination. It was then that the ice gave way sending the men scrambling to board three lifeboats held in tow. Five days later, through high seas and storms, the motley crew washed ashore on a remote arctic strip called Elephant Island.

Most of the men voted to hunker down and wait for rescue. But Shackleton saw this as poor odds, and instead ordered the re-outfitting of one of the lifeboats. He and four others – carefully selected – set off in hopes of intercepting a ship or making their way to the mainland.

Skirting disaster and braving stormy seas, the skeleton crew landed on the backside of a barren outpost many days later. It would take three of them 36 hours with only a carpenter’s axe and a 50-foot length of rope to traverse the mountainous and icy landscape before arriving at a remote whaling station off the coast of South America.
Shackleton commandeered a vessel and after three failed attempts, he succeeded in returning to Elephant Island, rescuing his crew, and making history. It had been a 20-month death-defying fiasco. Yet, it was heralded a grand success!

Success, because from the moment the Endurance became locked in ice, the mission changed. Traversing Antarctica was no longer the goal. Survival was! And Indeed, Shackleton and every one of his 27 crew members did survive!