Shackleton Leadership Analysis


1. Was Shackleton an effective leader? Why – Why not?

Ans. Shackleton, in my opinion, has been an efficient leader who helps his people return to their homeland in safety against all challenges, including a sailing ship, dwindling resources, and almost fatal cold. His expertise in making decisions to meet the need of the moment and delete authority apart from exerting his own determines one of his great leadership abilities. When the ship was sailing, he took decisions about what to keep and what to leave behind despite the impending danger which lay ahead. He did not let anyone’s emotions interfere when he decided the animals to be shot. His order to kill the cat brought by McNeish was one of them. Again, when he sailed to Georgia Island to bring help for the rest of his crew, he took crucial decisions about the men whom he would take with him. Despite their problems, he decided to take McNeish instead of leaving him behind to influence the rest of the crew negatively (Koehn, 2010, p.18). He also delegated authority to Wild over the men as long as he returned (Koehn, 2010, p.18). He desperately tried to save his men and begged for a ship from his home country and also South American nations, and after the fourth attempt, he succeeded in bringing them back on board by Yelcho (Koehn, 2010, pp.22-23). Another extraordinary aspect was his ability to communicate effectively with his crewmen and retain his composure at times when the crewmen would otherwise panic. He read poetry and stories at times when there was hardly any hope for safe reach (Koehn, 2010, p.16). When two of his men were almost freezing with deteriorating conditions, he ordered hot milk for all, lest those two men get panicked about their health condition (Koehn, 2010, p.19). His tactics in handling crises were praiseworthy. Whether he should have decided in the first place to sail past the South Pole is a different consideration altogether. Still, the adventures and obstacles which the expedition brought to his ship and crewmen could be dealt only with the extraordinary leadership of Shackleton.

Shackleton Leadership Analysis

2. What were Shackleton’s strengths and weaknesses?

The best argument Shackleton had was his ability to hold the team together and raising their stress even in dire crises. He succeeded make swift, efficient decisions for the moment’s need, mainly when there were ice food shortages and the decision to leave the ship at the right time (Koehn, 2010, p.12). The main weakness, however, lies in his short-sightedness in the supply of food. We find reports of the men feasting and entertaining with their hunted meat and whatever they brought along. Still, care could have been taken to ration the food from the very beginning such that the animals could be kept alive. His decision to kill the pet of McNeish worked against his relationship with his subordinate, as he was never forgiven by the latter (Koehn, 2010, p.30). When the dogs were shot before the men, they all felt confused by sight (Koehn, 2010, p.16). In a situation where men fight for their survival, such a view of death at the leader’s instructions might give them little confidence about a safe return.

3. What similarities do you see between Shackleton and those other leaders you’ve been studying?

Shackleton understood a successful leader needs to remind team members of the benefits and opportunities that lie in the road to achieving the goals. He has told his people they will be compensated in full even though they lost their ship (Koehn, 2010: p.15). His strategies are similar to Agamemnon’s, who sent Achilles with the promises of showering him with gifts of women, land, and riches to win against Troy (Bass & Bass, 2008, p.366). Machiavelli’s principles of ruling show some great ideas of leadership, some of which have already been applied by Shackleton. According to Machiavelli, a leader can be “deceitful when it suits his purpose and not appear that way” (Heijden, Bono and Jones, 2008, p. 35). When Shackleton trekked across the islands of Georgia with his two men, they had to continue walking without rest, but his men fell asleep. Instead of going away to sleep, which would have caused death to befall all of them, he woke up his mates after five minutes, telling them they slept for half an hour (Koehn, 2010, p.18). Then they continued walking. On the one hand, he knew how to motivate them and cheer them up, but like Machiavelli, he also believed that when one could not be loved, fear should be generated to follow orders. Therefore Shackleton always ensured that at the end of all arguments, his men did what he wanted and instructed (Koehn, 2010, p.9).

4. What were the reasons behind the Stamina crisis?

The main cause of the crisis was the impulsive decision about the time to sail out, which entrapped the ship within the ice and gradually broke it. The crewmen lost their boat, and despite all the necessities with little time, there was a shortage of food. The danger of ice and cold made their health deteriorate further. Men suffered from frostbites, wounds, and swollen feet from being immersed in saltwater (Koehn, 2010, p.19). The men lost their hopes and courage along with their ship. They trekked towards the land on the ice but later had to retreat as the ice began to melt.

5. What are the lessons for today’s company situation leaders/executives from this case?

Leaders and managers might learn from Shackleton’s experience that one man’s authority might not always be conducive, and suggestions need to flow in from other people as well. There needs to be a participative style of leadership instead of an authoritative style, as followed in the days of Shackleton. Though the marine leader knew how to delegate authority, his voice reigned supreme. This might often lead to problems and unnecessary clashes. However, leadership skills for decision-making and communicating with his men are things to learn for the current generation of leaders and managers.

  • Bass, B.M. & R. Bass, (2008), The Bass Handbook of Leadership, Simon, and Schuster.
  • Heijden, B.V.D, Bono, S.D. & S. Jones, (2008), Leadership, Change and Responsibility, Meyer & Meyer Verlag
  • Koehn, N.F. (2010), “Leadership in Crisis,” Harvard Business School


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here