In August 1914 Ernest Shackleton sailed with 27 men from England to the Antarctic continent with the goal of being the first to cross Antarctica—the land with the coldest temperature ever recorded on earth: minus 128.6 degrees—via the South Pole. Early in 1915 their ship, Endurance, became trapped in pack ice, and ten months later was crushed and sank. Shackleton’s crew had already abandoned the ship to live on floating ice in the most hostile place in the world.
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In April 1916 they set off in three cramped leaky open lifeboats for a 17-day, 800-mile journey in stormy seas, eventually reaching a jutting rock called Elephant Island. Taking five crew members, Shackleton went to find help. Again in a small open boat, the six men spent 16 days crossing another 800 miles of swirling frigid ocean to reach South Georgia island and then, with a pocket compass, trekked across two snowfields, four glaciers, and three mountain ranges to a remote whaling station. The remaining men from the Endurance were rescued in August 1916. Not one member of the expedition died, a two-year feat of magnificent unparalleled leadership.
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In his memoir, Endurance, Frank Worsley, the captain of the Endurance, wrote this about his leader:
He was not only a great explorer; he was also a great man….And what of him as a man? I recalled the way in which he had led his party across the ice-floes after the Endurance had been lost; how, by his genius for leadership he had kept us all in health; how, by the sheer force of his personality, he had kept our spirits up; and how, by his magnificent example, he had enabled us to win through when the dice of the elements were loaded most heavily against us.
According to the book Summoned to Lead by Leonard Sweet,
“The story of the Endurance expedition has a postmodern feel. Shackleton was a man clearly of his time, but a man also clearly living before his time. He combined the prophetic and priestly functions of leadership. He reached out to where his crew was (priest) and reached out to where his crew was not but needed to go (prophetic). He could ‘tell it like it is,’ but was willing to tell it like it is not but ought to be. Reaching people where they are is how leaders form relationships. But reaching people where they are not is how leaders form hope for ‘what you can be’ and help construct an imaginary future toward which people can direct their steps.”
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The SemperVerus Brotherhood / Sisterhood seeks to model the accomplished leadership virtues of Ernest Shackleton who remained positive even in supreme strife amid heaving waters.
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