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Leadership and Endurance: Staying Up When Things Look Down


Endurance-Shackleton

Everyday the world is made fresh, and no two days are alike. No one stays the same from day to day, or even moment to moment, because each experience brings new opportunities and fresh perspective.

We touched on this lightly in a previous article, Effective Leadership: Igniting the Vision for Others. You can tap this concept and put it to work on your behalf.

Today is a whole new day. Today your spouse is different. Your coworkers and colleagues are, too. Your friends and companions are 24 hours older today than they were yesterday, bringing with them a world of new encounters. Because of this, the way they think today is different from yesterday, no matter how slight that difference is.

If you keep this in mind, it will cast a fresh light on your world and your way of thinking. You can get to know them all over again each time you connect.

Even you are different.

Your cells are renewed constantly. I’m told that there isn’t a cell in your body that’s older than 7 years, right now, no matter what your birth certificate says.

If you trim an eighth of an inch off your fingernails, that means you cut away one month’s worth of growth. Think of all the things your fingertips touched in the past month, all the experiences your fingernails had during that brief span of time. Has your mind grown as much?

And what about your enthusiasm?

Does your perspective need a little freshness dating? Every now and then it’s a good idea to check the contents of your head and throw out the ideas that are past their peak.

Without even being aware of it, a repetitive routine can let boredom creep in, stale yawns trudging on the heels of monotony. Before you know it, your enthusiasm has tanked and you’re not sure why.

The Hazards of Breaking New Ground

If you’re in a position of Leadership, the habit of stale thinking can spread like a deadly-dull virus through your team and the others around you. If you’re not careful, it can spread to your home life and your other relationships too. This can play havoc with your success, both personally and professionally.

Here’s a case where maintaining a fresh perspective aboard a sinking ship was literally a matter of life and death. There’s much to be mined from it on the topic of Leadership.

About a hundred years ago, a crew of 27 men (and 70 sled dogs) led by Ernest Shackleton sailed from South Georgia Island in the southern Atlantic. Their intent was to land on the coast of Antarctica and trek across it shore to shore on foot, something no one else had done before. Unfortunately, they never even got to their destination.

The ocean between South America and Antarctica is notorious as a sailor’s graveyard, owing to high winds, deep swells and no small smattering of icebergs. Just six weeks after they began their voyage, the ship Endurance was lodged in an ice floe somewhere in the Weddell Sea. A few weeks later, it sank.

It took Shackleton and his crew some 18 months to return to South Georgia Island. During that time they camped on the ice, sailed across mountainous swells in little more than row boats, endured frostbite, hunger and desolation, never knowing if they’d see home again. But they persevered, and they did return.

It seems to me, if you were a crew member on the Endurance, you’d need a whole lot of enthusiasm for the taste of adventure. Just to get on the boat, you’d have to have a pretty tough inner game, a love of dogs, and a whole lot of gear.

You’d also need a very big idea about why the trip was necessary. There would be many chances to give up, all of them good ones.

The greatest threat to their successful return after the shipwreck was not so much the idea of quitting while they faced danger amid the storms and swells.

The greatest jeopardy to morale would have been the days on end of relative monotony – the cold, the gray, the unending sameness of their diet. There was no sound but their own voices, the wind, and the water lapping against the ice for the nearly 700 days of their journey.

The Rewards for Renewed Perspective

Surviving through this kind of ordeal takes a kind of camaraderie and a freshness of spirit that’s hard to find in this era or any other.

Every person on Shackleton’s team brought a set of skills essential for the mission. As a leader, Shackleton must have been keenly aware of this. Each one of the crew contributed a unique perspective to the group, along with the experiences gained during each whole new day. Together they persevered, and their survival itself was a triumph.

Whether you commute to work in an office, plow a field all day, or sit at home and knit, you are selecting the moments of your life and the thoughts that go along with them.

Now is a great time to give your enthusiasm a boost and see your surroundings through fresh eyes. Why not take time out for a little shift in perspective today?

You can give your doldrums the brush off while you trim your fingernails and think about where your fingers have been during the past month. If you find it dull, promise your hands that they’ll have a more stirring adventure to tell next time.

This article on Endurance and Enthusiasm is
part of our ongoing Leadership series.

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icon1January 26th, 2015
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