On Tuesday I had the honour of attending WinTrade (Women in Trade) in London that was hosted by MasterCard. The main theme was “How to embed diversity in the world of tech?”, and it was attended by entrepreneurial businesswomen from all over the world. One of the speakers asked the question: “What is our purpose as humans?” This led me to thinking about leadership and the role of leaders in today’s world, whether political, business, sports or otherwise.
As a part of the day, completely off the cuff I was asked to give a five-minute inspirational speech. Apart from suffering from internal panic, I decided to focus on my name and say a few words about Sir Ernest Shackleton, the great Antarctic explorer.
Great Leadership in Action
The Shackleton motto was “By endurance we conquer”. He made two Antarctic expeditions that demonstrated this motto, although neither reached the South Pole. Never-the-less, Shackleton made history when his ship Endurance was trapped in ice, eventually crushed. As the Antarctic ice melted, the vessel sank to the bottom of the sea.
It was through his leadership, in a situation that appeared completely hopeless, that Shackleton managed to keep the spirits of the whole team up whilst he created a strategy to get everyone to safety in three rickety lifeboats.
The route included an open boat journey to Elephant Island, where they found little life on this piece of land that was constantly ravaged by the sea. All the men, except five stayed hurdled under the lifeboats for months whilst Shackleton and five men sailed 800 miles to reach the island of South Georgia.
However, on arrival, which in itself was a miracle, they found that habitation was on the other side of the island and therefore had to trek over a frozen, unchartered mountainous interior to reach the whaling station. Shackleton did not stop to rest at the whaling station. Instead he returned with the help of the whalers to rescue the rest of the men, all of whom survived their ordeal.
The Meaning of Leadership
Leadership in 1916 for Shackleton and his team was all about camaraderie, loyalty, responsibility, determination and in this expedition, optimism. He managed to convince his men that getting out alive was possible and that this was what everyone had to focus on and work for.
At that time in 1916 there was no technology as we know it today. No state-of-the-art sensors and radio or other communication equipment to contact fellow human beings. No navigation equipment as we know it today and no comforts of special fabrics that insulate you from the cold.
Leadership vs Technology
Technology has progressed enormously since 1916. Looking at the current year, 2019, we have information at lightning speed. We have all kinds of communication capabilities, including Inmarsat satellite phones if choosing to travel to such destinations as Antarctica. Our lives are full of Artificial Intelligence to assist in improving systems, processes, data transfer, data protection, deliveries, security and so on. But where is the leadership that Shackleton showed in the expedition in 2016? Leadership is not about technology; it is about the human element.
In today’s world it seems to me that we are searching for leaders that can carry us into a new era. An era where current long-standing, economic systems and processes need to be challenged. Rather than tweaking crumbling systems and processes, our leaders need to have the courage to lead transformation not only of systems and processes, but also of our approach to situations and people who might be different from ourselves. In other words, this is very important to steering the course and to our “survival”.
Transformation of abilities, skills and knowledge is also needed to bring us all into the world of Generation Z, where the current level of A.I is threatening jobs as we know them and consequently lifestyles and the very security of work.
This is the generation that is asking uncomfortable questions, coming in through their own doors and challenging the status quo. The needed change has already been identified, and some might say it is already here - it is whether we choose to review and change our leadership characteristics and style and get on board, as technology cannot do it on its own!
Shackleton’s Way, Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell
Shackleton The Heart of the Antartci and South, Wordsworth Classic of World Literature
Rachel Shackleton is an entrepreneur who owns and manages Green Key Personal Development and Green Key Health. Working with local and multinational organisations, she is a public speaker and trainer in the spheres of leadership, communication and customer excellence. She ensures sustainable productivity and profitability through healthy self-management and leadership practices, ensuring a focused and successful workforce.
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