First Jesus, then Attila the Hun. Now English explorer Ernest Shackleton is pressed into service as a model of business leadership.
Shackleton’s accomplishments as a leader are indisputable. When his ship, Endurance, broke up on the ice during his 1914 expedition to the Antarctic, he led his 27-man crew to safety over a nightmarish, two-year-long journey that cost not a single life. He did so, write Morrell and Capparell, through a combination of hard-nosed rules (no fighting, no unnecessary risks, no shirking of duty) and an often-expressed willingness to plunge in and do the dirtiest, most unpleasant of jobs himself without complaint. Moral but not pious, disciplined but not humorless, he inspired the love and absolute confidence of his men; even the weakest and least trustworthy pulled his weight. Morrell, a financial representative with Fidelity Investments, and Capparell, a Wall Street Journal writer, have done their homework tremendously well and fluently retell the story of Shackleton’s time on the ice. But their checklists of lessons to be learned are too pat (e.g., “Take the time to observe before acting, especially if you are new to the scene”), and their identification of certain business and government leaders as “Shack-heads” is not always convincing. Pointing to an executive who used a Shackleton-derived pep talk to boost international sales of Jaguar sports cars, for example, the authors fail except in the vaguest of terms to link the business of surviving a sojourn on gale-whipped ice floes with the marketing of badly made luxury goods.
Still, as models go, Shackleton is self-evidently a good one whose bravery, honesty, and intelligence ought to be welcome qualities in any workshop or boardroom. Fans of pop-management literature could do far worse than to read this book.