He showed strength of leadership and astute decision making which over a century on, continue to impress. Feinnes on Ernest Shackleton

By Tony Orman

In 1915 Sir Ernest Shackleton attempt to traverse the Antarctic came to a cold, abrupt end when his ship was trapped by ice. It was then that Shackleton and his Kiwi captain Frank Worsley – a mighty man himself – made a dramatic and dangerous lifeboat journey to South Georgia, to get help for the remainder of the party left behind on ice. That was a miraculous journey against all odds and succeeded.

But that was just another chapter in the extraordinary life of Shackleton one of the world’s great polar adventures and explorers.

A well-qualified author to assess the leader

Making this book special is the fact that the author Ranulph Fiennes is also a polar explorer and therefore impeccably qualified to understand the challenges, the hardships and the rigours of polar adventures and thereby can give his own unique insights to the reader.

The author writes “Shackleton’s ability to motivate his men and put the interests of the group above all else has since been studied far and wide. Shackleton modules are taught at Harvard Business School.” One book “Shackleton’s way; Leadership lessons from the Great Antarctica Explorer” labels Shackleton as “the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none.” 

In 2019, BBC viewers voted Sir Ernest Shackleton as the nation’s favourite polar icon, despite the fact that he never reached the pole.

Successes and failings

Shackleton possessed immense mana with exceptional leadership skills but also had some flaws which impacted deeply on his family life. The author adeptly probes into Shackleton’s motivation and character. To many, he failed in reaching his expedition goals, in handling money and in being an attentive husband and father.

 Author Fiennes writes that despite these failings, Shackleton possessed “extraordinary leadership under the most intense pressure” and in life he lived out most of his boyhood adventurer dreams saving his men from the ice. “He showed strength of leadership and astute decision making which over a century on, continue to impress.”

I found this book an absorbing read. As a former editor, I noted the editing could have been tighter here and there, but it will be a very minor point for the reader. “Shackleton” should appeal to virtually anyone but especially those with a love of the outdoors and a sense of adventure. 

The book is reasonably priced and provides an extremely engaging read about a great man. Highly recommended.

(Shackleton by Ranulph Fiennes is published by Michael Joseph, Penguin-Random House NZ. RRP $38.)