For and Against - management from the explorers of yesteryear
Margot Morrell is the author of ‘Shackleton’s Way’ one of the most popular and influential management books ever written, having sold more than 400,000 copies worldwide. Her latest book ‘Reagan’s Journey’ examines the keys to success behind the US’s 40th president.
Founder of the Business Genome project, author and speaker
Andrea Kates is the founder of the Business Genome project and author of the bestselling business innovation book ‘Find Your Next’. She is a member of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) community and a featured 2012 TED speaker.
This is a fascinating question, affirmed by the audiences that I talk to today. I’ve noticed when I talk to blue chip companies, major financial services firms and so on, they tick off the lessons learned in order. And with Ernest Shackleton these lessons are revealed in four leadership qualities: Leading by example, communicating effectively, keeping up morale and driving a positive outcome. This last attribute is not to do with putting a rosy perspective on misfortune, or a Pollyanna-ish way of looking at things. It is a way of constantly driving that outcome. These are as relevant today as they were a century ago when Shackleton was leading one of the greatest rescue missions the world has ever heard about. That is what’s constantly fascinating about the question. And the answer is, yes we can learn from these explorers of old.In the past two decades there has been a sharp focus on managing to quarterly and monthly outcomes and returns. But with Shackleton we see the focus on a more important goal. He’s been dead 90 years and the rescue mission on his Endurance expedition - where he famously travelled 800 miles across the roughest seas in the world in a 23ft whaler to fetch relief for his men - was just that. A rescue mission at the end of a failed expedition. Andy Grove, CEO of Intel calls this the ‘strategic inflection point’. And you can see how this applied to Intel, who nearly went out of business on a number of occasions. They had to completely re-engineer themselves and say: “Okay, this way leads to disaster, but we can tweak our business model.”
Take a look at Dick Fuld at Lehman Brothers and the whole disaster at Enron. These people totally drove themselves off the cliff. I mean, what could they possibly have been thinking? Now Shackleton saw the more important goal. Having lost his ship, and faced with what looked like certain death in Antarctica, he said: “Look, we’re going to survive”. In effect he was saying that once they had survived they could revisit the smaller goals that were objectives of the original expedition. But the important goal crucial to the longer-term strategy was survival.
That is Shackleton’s most astonishing accomplishment. He got every single one of his men home alive, and not only that, throughout their ordeal, they actually had quite a good time. Given their circumstances - where the men had virtually nothing - how on earth did their leader keep them motivated and happy? But Shackleton built such camaraderie that in the 1950s, four decades after the expedition, there were survivors saying that they had never before or since experienced another crew like that of Endurance.
What is so odd about this is that it wasn’t until the 1960s that a true understanding of Shackleton’s leadership was reached. Up until that point all the talk had been of his earlier and phenomenally successful Nimrod expedition. But we now know that Shackleton learned more from the Endurance disaster than his successes. Nasa learned more from Apollo 13 than it did from all the other space missions combined. There is something of a parallel here, where it is failing to achieve our goal that we really see our challenges.
None of us wants to go through disasters and we want to run our lives and our businesses happily. But we live in an era where a billion emails get sent a day and financial transactions are made in fractions of seconds over enormous networks. So you could ask if we aren’t just being a bit old-fashioned looking for our inspiration from a man in a wooden boat who never had the advantage of any of the digital technology that we have today. But, of course, there is always ‘true north’ (or in Shackleton’s case south), by which I mean that real values and aspirations remain the same, and it is when we allow ourselves to be diverted from these that mistakes are made. So for me it makes sense to look at how Shackleton in particular coped with adversity and apply it to the modern world.
There’s always a risk when we, as business leaders, take a model of leadership that worked well a century ago and try to use it as a framework for business today. A good example of this is the recent presidential election in the United States where Barack Obama and John McCain were competing for the top spot as American leader. Now, McCain’s had a mindset based on: “what won the last election for the last president?” But Obama didn’t necessarily take the past as his framework and instead woke up to the fact that social media is a huge reality today coming straight at you, front and centre.
This was probably the first time an election hinged on the ability to have social media as a major force. And Obama was freed by not having to have a structure based on the past. In leadership terms, he redefined the ground for how to win an election today. For me, if Obama had based his campaign on the great oration skills of old he may well not have won the election.
Think about Stanley McChrystal. A general in the US army, he was trained in the traditional aspects of military leadership. He suffered a fall from favour, having been very well respected in military thinking. But he discovered one day that the established mindset of trying to rally the troops and to get them motivated was not working. When welcoming new recruits his first line was always “Let’s remember 9/11”. This was a wonderful way to rally troops in the US for years, because it resonated with everybody. And so the cry was: “Patriotism at all costs. Protect. Protect. Protect. Lead by example.”
But a few years ago he found that this didn’t resonate in the same way with the newer incoming classes of recruits and he couldn’t work out why. So he asked the question and a recruit raised his hand and said: “I don’t remember this stuff. I was in the Sixth Grade at the time.” You can’t simply cling to models of the past and hope to get results.
Now, if McChrystal’s leadership ego had been such that the old way was simply the only way, then he would have missed the fact that he was no longer leading effectively and that he needed to do something brand new. And his new idea was to engage and ask questions. And so this model of monolithic leadership much admired in the great explorer Ernest Shackleton is completely at odds with what is required to lead a new generation of people. Shackleton effectively said: “This is how we’re going to do it - now are you with me or against me?” He then backed it up with his abundant sense of personal charisma and saved the day. But with McChrystal it was different. He had to turn on a dime, hit the pause button, reflect and ask a new question in a new way. He had to put his ego and training aside, and he found that he could reach the place where modern leaders have to be. And that is to ask “what is the most relevant question I can ask this group of people today?”
My book ‘Find Your Next’ starts with a very radical point of departure, which is that if we walk into a room with a specific mindset we will by definition be affecting the outcome of our strategies in ways that will miss the opportunities that lie ahead of us.
If you could make the cars faster and more efficiently you could sell more of them into an ever-expanding market. The problem is that we’re living in a world right now - whether it be exploring the unknown or making our way in business - where we need to really abandon that way of thinking. Our world is moving too fast and the information is too difficult to put together to make any headway with a SWOT analysis. What we tend not to realise is that if we analyse the new data coming at us with old techniques we could end up like Kodak, sitting there while iPhones are taking more pictures than Kodak cameras.
We cannot sit there with our linear mindsets doing things in the traditional way because that is the way we have always done it. *
Do you agree?
Can we really learn our management techniques from the explorers of yesteryear?
|E&T Magazine - Debate - Can we really learn our management techniques from the explorers of yesterye...||1||Reply|
"Summer is on the way, so we turn our attention to a few leisurely pursuits - and some not-so leisurely ones..."
- Greenpeace frowns at Centrica's getting a shale-gas venture stake
- World’s most advanced comms satellite shipped to launch site
- HMS Queen Elizabeth nears completion
- Scientist to benefit from exascale supercomputer deal
- Dinosaurs’ app uses augmented reality
- Chinese space capsule reaches its ‘Heavenly Palace’
- Transformers Vector Group [04:55 pm 19/06/13]
- E&T magazine - Debate - HS2, the need for speed [01:33 pm 18/06/13]
- Creating an Iphone App [05:50 pm 17/06/13]
- CO2 is good [07:29 pm 16/06/13]
- DECC-EDF makes yet another attempt to fund 3rd Generation Nuclear at any cost [05:02 pm 15/06/13]
Tune into our latest podcast