Why Leadership Matters

One leader can make a difference in any situation and any organization.

You might have seen the news this week that Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, was discovered in Antarctica after sinking more than 107 years ago. Searchers found the ship 9,842 feet below the surface of the Weddell Sea on the northern coast of Antarctica.

While the discovery is considered a significant historical find, I can’t help thinking about the man behind the ship, Ernest Shackleton. He was a man who faced the ultimate leadership test and came out on top. His actions demonstrate why leadership is so important, especially when things go tragically wrong.

If you know the story, Shackleton and his crew of 27 men left England in 1914 on an expedition to cross Antarctica on foot. But the mission failed.

Five months into the journey, the Endurance became hopelessly stuck in the thick, impenetrable ice in the Weddell Sea. Nine months later, the shifting ice crushed the Endurance leaving Shackleton and his crew stranded on the ice flows.

Shackleton faced one of the most challenging leadership tests in history. Click To Tweet

With no hope for rescue, Shackleton faced one of the most challenging leadership tests in history. His mission to transit Antarctica was over, but he had a new goal – to keep his crew alive.

He led his team in the most brutal conditions on the shrinking ice pack for six months. Eventually, they reached the uninhabited and remote Elephant Island. From there, Shackleton and five crew members set sail in a 23-foot-long open lifeboat to get help. They needed to travel more than 800 miles to reach the whaling stations on South Georgia island.

Shackleton and his men endured storms, heavy seas, 50 mph winds, and ice build-ups on the hull that threatened to capsize their vessel. One of his crew later said, “It was the most amazing suffering.”

Two weeks later, they reached South Georgia, where Shackleton arranged a rescue of his remaining crew on Elephant Island.

On August 30th, 1916, the remaining crew members were rescued more than two years after they left England. Every one of his crew of 27 men survived the ordeal.

Ernest Shackleton proved why one leader can make a difference. Click To Tweet

Ernest Shackleton proved why one leader can make a difference. Consider these five leadership traits Shackleton demonstrated:

He didn’t panic. He just changed the mission. When it was clear that they would no longer be able to carry out the expedition’s mission, Shackleton pivoted to a new goal of getting his men home. He made sure everyone knew the new mission.

He provided hope. By focusing on the new mission and formulating a plan to carry it out, he sparked hope in his team. Without Shackleton’s leadership, his team might have died hopelessly on that ice pack.

He took care of morale. His men faced brutal conditions with limited supplies and food. Shackleton kept things light with humor and kept his crew occupied with assigned work. He did his best to meet the needs of everyone on his crew. He knew that if morale faltered, so would their chances of survival.

He led from the front. Shackleton suffered as much if not more than his crew during those two years. He personally led the mission to South Georgia in a small open boat in the Antarctic because it provided the best chance of rescue.

He never gave up. Despite every obstacle put in his path, he never gave up. His men were motivated by his steadfast persistence.

When Shackleton was later asked about how he overcame all the challenges he faced on that ill-fated expedition, he had the most humble answer. He said, “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.”

“Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” - Ernest Shackleton Click To Tweet

I encourage you to read more about the Endurance Expedition. One of my favorite books is Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morrell.

Shackleton’s story provides us with a great example of why leadership matters.

One leader can make a difference in any situation and any organization. So, the question is: What can you do today to make a difference with your team?

If you want to become a better leader, order my latest book You Have the Watch: A Guided Journal to Become a Leader Worth Following.

This guided journal provides daily leadership guidance and reflection for an entire year. Each week, you will learn a new leadership skill. Each day, you will explore a new facet of that skill. As you do the work and put in the reps as a leader, this journal will be your constant companion. By the end of the year, you will master fifty of the most important leadership skills.

 

 

 

[Photo credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic]

Great Leaders Run Towards the Fire

Great Leaders Run Towards the Fire

This past week, the events in Eastern Europe reminded the world of what courageous leadership looks like.

The U.S. government offered to evacuate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from the besieged city of Kyiv, but he declined.

According to the Associated Press, Zelensky said, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” Click To Tweet

Instead of evacuating to safety, he chose to remain in Ukraine’s capital as Russian forces closed in. He addressed his frightened citizens from Kyiv and urged them to stay strong and united.

He reminded them, “I’m here. We won’t lay down our arms. We will defend our state.”

His actions stand in stark contrast to what we usually see from politicians. So much so that the entire world has noticed.

If you run a Google search for “Zelensky” and “leadership,” you will find hundreds of articles that news organizations have written about his bold leadership in the past several days.

Zelensky is demonstrating what it means to run to the fire. It’s a subject I have written about on my blog, and I cover it in detail in my latest leadership book, All in the Same Boat.

Great leaders lead from the front. Click To Tweet

Great leaders lead from the front.

They understand that when something threatens their organization, they run towards the danger and personally lead the efforts to attack the threat with tenacity.

These leaders know that everyone is watching them and how they respond to these challenges will set the tone for the rest of the organization.

The country of Ukraine needs strong leadership right now, and Zelensky is providing it.

The question is – what will you do the next time your company is facing a threat? Will you run away or towards the fire?

[Photo credit FACEBOOK / @Volodymyr Zelensky/A]

10 Tips on Being a Better Leader at Work

Create a positive work environment where people genuinely want to do their best every day.

Former NFL Coach Jimmy Johnson probably said it best, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.” This is especially true in leadership.

Getting the business fundamentals right is critical for success, but how you treat people is that little “extra” that can truly inspire an organization.

The problem is that too many leaders don’t recognize this. A Harvard Business Review study of 20,000 people worldwide found that a majority (54%) of employees felt their leaders didn’t treat them with respect regularly.

This lack of respect and civility has a real impact on employee engagement. The same study found that being treated with respect was more important to employee engagement than any other factor.

Employees who said their boss treated them with respect were 55% more engaged.

Employees who said their boss treated them with respect were 55% more engaged. Click To Tweet

The truth is, it’s not that difficult or time-consuming to display genuine respect for your employees. It’s that little “extra” you can do to create a positive work environment where people genuinely want to do their best every day.

In more than 30 years as a leader, I found these ten simple activities can make a difference:

Be present – Never underestimate the power of your presence. You can’t lead your company from behind your desk. You need to be there. You need to walk around. Employees need to see you, and you need to see them.

Focus on them – When engaging employees, remember it’s not about you. Ask them questions. Find out about them. Find out what’s on their minds. Most corporate communication is top-down, but when you talk with employees, this is a chance for a more interactive dialogue.

Be polite – It doesn’t take extra time to say please, thank you, and acknowledge that you appreciate someone’s effort. It shouldn’t be rare to be civil. I was shocked to learn from a former employee that I was her favorite boss simply because I was always polite.

Don’t forget to smile – As a leader, you are on stage every day, and your attitude is contagious. Even if you are having a bad day, force yourself to be positive and smile when engaging employees.

Give them your full attention – Nothing says disrespect more than ignoring an employee. Stop what you are doing and acknowledge them. It’s acceptable to let them know you need a minute to wrap up what you are doing but then put it away and give them 100% of your attention. When it comes to employee interactions, never multi-task.

How you treat people is that little “extra” that can truly inspire an organization. Click To Tweet

Send thank-you notes – A simple letter thanking an employee for their extra effort helps reinforce the right employee behaviors. It shows you care. I also like to send the notes to their home where they can open them in front of their family.

Send get-well cards – I keep a stack of “get well” cards on my desk to send to employees who are sick or having surgery. It’s a simple thing that shows you care about them as a person.

Catch them doing something right – Most bosses focus on catching people making mistakes, but author Ken Blanchard says there’s a better way. He says the easiest and quickest way to improve workplace morale is to notice, encourage, and celebrate all the good things in your organization.

Welcome new employees – I once had a boss who sent a large basket of cookies and snacks to my home after hiring me. In it was a note that said, “I’m looking forward to all the great things I know you will do.” It was a simple gesture that I will never forget. I always try to do the same for new hires to my direct staff.

Promote a culture of mutual respect – You must select leaders who share your desire to show respect to employees. The primary reason employees leave companies is the poor leadership of front-line managers. Make sure your leadership team knows the importance you place on respect by promoting those that display the right behaviors.

To be an extraordinary leader, you have to love people. You need to do the little “extra” things to show you care, you are listening, and you recognize your employees’ efforts.

Most leaders claim they don’t have enough time to respect their employees. Yet, they seem to find time to deal with the aftermath of poor employee morale and engagement.

I challenge you to try these ten simple activities and see if it makes a difference in your organization.

If you want to become a better leader, order my latest book You Have the Watch: A Guided Journal to Become a Leader Worth Following.

This guided journal provides daily leadership guidance and reflection for an entire year. Each week, you will learn a new leadership skill. Each day, you will explore a new facet of that skill. As you do the work and put in the reps as a leader, this journal will be your constant companion. By the end of the year, you will master fifty of the most important leadership skills.

[Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash]