Here’s another installment of excerpts from the presentation I did for my leadership team on the life of Ernest Shackleton.
One of the reasons I think Shackleton is one of the greatest leaders who ever lived because he knew how to build a good team. He was a good chooser who had an eye for talent and giftedness and he proved that he could build a team that could survive almost anything. Each of the twenty-eight-man Endurance team was picked to do a specific job and each man on the team did his job well, so each man on Shackleton’s team survived for two years in the frozen wilderness of Antarctica, when all seemed lost.
In 1914, Shackleton began his mission by picking his team, which was made all the more difficult because everyone wanted to work with him. One historian noted, “When Shackleton announced his plans to return to the Antarctic in a letter to The Times in London on December 29, 1913, he was deluged with requests. Nearly five thousand hopefuls sent applications.” Shackleton needed only about thirty men, so he began to pick his team, which he did carefully, because the mission was dangerous and the success of his mission depended on a good team.
Shackleton described the task of putting together an ideal team like this:
The men selected must be qualified for the work, and they must also have the special qualifications required to meet polar conditions. They must be able to live together in harmony for a long period of time without outside communication, and it must be remembered that the men whose desire lead them to the untrodden paths of the world have generally marked individuality. It was no easy matter for me to select the staff.
An historian commenting on this mission pointed out, “There were no passengers on board the Endurance,” so when the Endurance became stuck in the ice on January 18, 1915 (where it stayed until eventually being crushed by the ice nine months later on November 21), and the men began a long fight for survival, every person did what they were chosen to do, so all twenty-eight men survived.
Leaders now study the life of Ernest Shackleton to learn how to survive in a crisis and they find that—even though his mission failed—every man survived against impossible odds, because Shackleton picked a good team and made sure that each member of that team understood his role.
Shackleton’s Way of Selecting and Organizing a Crew:
1) Start with a solid crew of workers you know from past jobs or who come recommended by trusted colleagues.
2) Your Number Two is your most important hire. Pick one who complements your management style, shows loyalty without being a yes-man, and has a talent for working with others.
3) Hire those who share your vision. Someone who clashes with your personality or the corporate culture will hinder your work.
4) Fire quickly when it is clear you made a wrong recruiting decision even if it means legal action.
5) Weed out potential slackers or people who are not prepared to do mundane or unpopular jobs.
6) Be a creative, unconventional interviewer if you seek creative, unconventional people. Go deeper than job experience and expertise. Ask questions that reveal a candidates personality, values, and perspective on work and life.
7) Don’t stick doggedly to your list of questions; rely on your intuition as well.
8) Surround yourself with cheerful, optimistic people. They will reward you with the loyalty and camaraderie vital for success. Also, they will stick by you when times get tough.
9) Applicants hungriest for the job are apt to work hardest to keep it.
10) Hire those with the talents and expertise you lack. Don’t feel threatened by them. They will help you stay on the cutting edge and bring distinction to your organization.
11) Spell out clearly to new employees the exact duties and requirements of their jobs, and how they will be compensated. Many failed work relationships start with a lack of communication.
12) To help your staff do top-notch work, give them the best equipment you can afford. Working with outdated, unreliable tools creates an unnecessary burden.