When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
What does that mean? When the going gets tough, the tough scarper or does it mean the tough get into action? I like to think it means the latter. As we struggle with the vicissitudes of the current economic climate it’s good to learn lessons from how a great leader reacted in very different stressful circumstances.
I’m inspired by the great explorer Shackleton. In 1914, Shackleton led an Antarctic expedition which found disaster and Shackleton’s leadership meant that all his team lived to tell the tale.
And it’s quite a tale. The ship got stuck in the ice. For ten months. Then the ship was crushed by the ice. The men had to camp on the ice for four months in the darkness of the Antarctic winter. When summer arrived, they launched their three lifeboats. Four months later they landed on a very inhospitable Elephant Island. Shackleton took five men and sailed eight hundred miles over heaving seas in a lifeboat and had to cross a frozen mountain range on South Georgia before they could summon help. Oh, and then Shackleton immediately set about organising the mission to rescue the men he’d left on Elephant Island!
Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell looks at the way Shackleton focused on his team, inspiring them, motivating them and rewarding them. The authors paint a vivid picture of his resourcefulness and bravery. It’s a great read and I thoroughly recommend it.
Shackleton was known for his single-mindedness. He had a great sense of purpose, but for me the crucial element of his leadership is that when he needed to, he abandoned his original vision of crossing Antarctica on foot and wholeheartedly embraced a new one: getting all his team home safely. He adapted. And in the year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth I’d like to acknowledge the part that adaptability plays in the make-up of a great leader.
As Charles Darwin himself wrote:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
Sometimes what you’re doing just doesn’t work. Get advice, consult your team, think hard and then if everything is still telling you that the course you’ve set is heading to disaster…change it. Too many senior banking executives have not heeded their own misgivings. When the going gets tough, the tough adapt.