by Jim Hinshaw
Have you ever been really cold? We lived in Colorado for about 12 years, followed our grandson up there when he was 3. But that is another story. I have been outside in -26. Mike and I were on the back deck, he had a cup of coffee in one hand. Told me, watch this, and threw the cup of coffee into the air. It instantly vaporized, turned into crystals, floated down right in front of our eyes. That is cold.
My article this month is based on a book I read, Endurance, Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. The book is a true story, complete with photos of the expedition of Ernest Shackleton trying to cross the Antarctic by foot in 1915. He never made it. His ship, the Endurance, was frozen in the harsh winter seas, locked in a death grip 60 miles short of his intended destination. His ship crushed by the ice, Shackleton realized he would never make it to the Antarctic, in fact he was not supposed to be back to home base till the next February. No one was coming to rescue them.
What would you do, if your original goal was completely shut off, not obtainable. Fret, worry, sit down with the management team, talk it out? Shackleton changed the goal, almost immediately. His new goal, to get the men home safely. Every. Single. Man.
Back to the cold. The Antarctic has the lowest recorded temperature on earth, -127 degrees. The crew of 27 (plus one stowaway made it 28) were in this sort of environment for almost 2 years! No radio, no way to get a message home, they were marooned on a ship stuck in the ice for months. When the ice crushed their ship, they built a camp on a huge ice flow that drifted where ever the ice carried them. For months. At one point, Shackleton was in his tent, middle of the night, just couldn’t sleep. He got up, went outside, and realized why he was awake. The ice was cracking right under their camp, in fact, right under his feet. He sounded an alarm, began to grab men out of the tents, pushing or throwing them over onto the larger piece of ice. One poor crewman fell into the ice-cold water, he grabbed him and pulled him to safety. No time to construct a plan, he just had to react.
Later, they find themselves on a small island, with very little food and a couple of lifeboats, 22-foot-long lifeboats. Shackleton made a decision to try a rescue trip to an island 800 miles away in this little boat with a dozen men on board. In the midst of winter. With very little provisions. And no dry clothes. It don’t get much worse.
Except it does. To attempt an 800-mile voyage across a winter ocean to land at a island only 25 miles across is a feat in itself even with modern electronic navigation. But to attempt that with only a sextant in weather that hid the stars for days at a time, it was a daunting task.
Read the book, or call me, I will tell you what happens next. I will tell you now, this is one of the best examples of grace under pressure and leadership ever. How does this apply to our business?
Several ways. First of all, a leader is tested most when all roads to the business goals are crushed. Maybe an economic turn shuts down a market you are involved in. Perhaps an illness or accident takes a key employee out of commission for months, maybe forever. A new competitor comes in with more advertising money, bigger budgets, and takes some of your business away. Maybe Amazon starts doing home repair work. Or all four happen at once, the perfect storm. What you as the company leader do or don’t do can make the difference in the company survival or actually gaining market share.
Understand, I am not talking about just having a backup plan. I am talking about the events that turn your company from forward progress to trying to stay alive. So the lessons from Endurance are many, but here are a few to start your thinking.
- Never lose sight of the ultimate goal, be ready to change short term objectives if needed.
- Set personal examples with your behavior during a crisis.
- Stay optimistic, but realistic.
- Stay healthy, you must be at your best, mentally and physically.
- Let the team know, they are all important, every single person.
- Don’t let the team get into small struggles as to who is more important.
- Keep a sense of humor, even in tough times.
- Be ready to take a business move that may have significant risk.
- And never give up, always another path available.
This article is based on a book about the book, called Lessons from the Edge, written by Paul Kessler. Sat next to him on a flight last year, we made small talk, ended up giving him one of my books, he gave me one of his. Funny how life puts us in places that turn out to be gift.
Thanks for listening, we will talk later.