Essay leadership principle
What Is Servant Leadership?
As a historian at the Harvard Business School , I wrote a case study about him that has drawn more interest from executives than any other I have taught. He had begun the voyage with a mission of exploration, but it quickly became a mission of survival. This capacity is vital in our own time, when leaders must often change course midstream — jettisoning earlier standards of success and redefining their purposes and plans.
His ship, the Endurance, never reached Antarctica. None of its 28 crew members set foot on the continent. When the Endurance set sail in August , Shackleton had a bold, potentially history-making goal: he and his team would be the first to walk across the continent, starting from the coast of the Weddell Sea, traversing the South Pole and ending up at the Ross Sea. But from the beginning, the expedition encountered unfamiliar challenges. In late , the ship arrived at a whaling settlement on South Georgia Island, the last southern port of call before the Antarctic Circle.
Local seamen urged Shackleton to postpone his venture because of unusually thick pack ice that could trap the ship if the wind and temperatures shifted suddenly. Impatient to get moving, Shackleton commanded the ship to continue south, navigating through the icy jigsaw puzzle.
In January , the vessel came within sight of the Antarctic mainland. But harsh winds and cold temperatures descended quickly, and the pack ice trapped the ship, just as the South Georgia seamen had warned.
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The Endurance was immobilized, held hostage to the drifting ice floes. Shackleton feared the potential effects of idleness, ennui and dissidence among his men more than he did the ice and cold. He required that each man maintain his ordinary duties as closely as possible. Sailors swabbed decks; scientists collected specimens from the ice; others were assigned to hunt for seals and penguins when fresh meat, a protection against scurvy, ran low. He also kept a strict routine for meals and insisted that the men socialize after dinner, as a tonic for declining morale.
Still, collective disappointment, and tempers, flared. He knew that in this environment, without traditional benchmarks and supports, his greatest enemies were high levels of anxiety and disengagement, as well as a slow-burning pessimism.
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Days became weeks, and weeks became months, and still the ice held the ship. Shackleton ordered the crew to abandon the sinking ship and make camp on a nearby ice floe. A day later, in the privacy of his diary, he was more candid about the gauntlet in front of him. View all New York Times newsletters. After the Endurance sank, leaving the men stranded on the ice with three small lifeboats, several tents and supplies, Shackleton realized that he himself had to embody the new survival mission — not only in what he said and did, but also in his physical bearing and the energy he exuded.
He managed his own emotional intelligence — to use a modern term — to keep his own courage and confidence high; when these flagged, he never let his men know. Andrew Little, group managing director for the Melbourne unit of DDB, the advertising firm, has been strongly influenced by Shackleton in his own work with his team. Little read the case several years ago in a company-sponsored executive education course.
In the face of enormous obstacles, Shackleton found a way to do this. The ship was gone; previous plans were irrelevant. Now his goal was to bring the team home safely, and he improvised, adapted and used every resource at hand to achieve it. When a few men expressed skepticism about his plans, he acted quickly to contain their opposition and negativity by trying to win them over and keeping close watch on them. By April , the ice began breaking up, and Shackleton ordered the men to the lifeboats, hoping to reach land along the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
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After a week of stormy seas, they arrived at the deserted Elephant Island. They were exhausted, seasick and dehydrated.
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Almost immediately, Shackleton began planning his next move. Along with five other men, he managed to guide a foot lifeboat to South George Island; from there, a smaller party reached a whaling station and help. Then he began looking for a vessel capable of rescuing the rest of his crew. During the next several months, he set sail in three different ships, but none could cut through the pack ice surrounding Elephant Island. Finally, on Aug. Certainly, Shackleton was far from perfect, as executives and M.
Take, for example, a patient who is having a heart attack. He arrives at the emergency department ED with squeezing chest pain. An EKG shows ongoing injury. The diagnosis is recognized, and resources are quickly mobilized to get the patient to the cath lab where they perform a diagnostic angiogram that shows a clot in his coronary artery.
The artery is mechanically opened and a stent is placed in the blocked artery to restore blood flow and abort the ischemia. As the patient recovers, his healthcare team must help him do a different kind of work: adaptive work. The patient needs to realize what just happened: he is mortal; death is not optional an all too common cultural belief.
The stent alone will not guarantee longevity. He needs to change his understanding of and how he approaches his life to have the best chance of preventing another heart attack. He needs to stop smoking, lose weight, get his lipids and blood pressure under control, address any mental health challenges, and take his new medications. Budgets are another example. They seem technical—just math problems. Why then is everyone so tense at budget time? Difficult discussions, tradeoffs, and disappointments happen at budget time—this is the adaptive work. Generating data is technical work but using data to have conversations about care and improvement is adaptive work.
Something to take note of: the most common cause of leadership failure is treating an adaptive problem with a technical fix. We do it all the time in healthcare. Technical work is not bad or unimportant; it is just insufficient to address adaptive challenges. People need the right amount of tension—not too much or too little—so they can engage in and own their work. This helps them build their confidence and sense of effectiveness. If tension is too high, people feel overwhelmed. If tension is too low, people are unengaged. When people are in the productive zone of tension, they can work in their optimum zone of creativity.
The challenge in leading adaptive change is to keep oneself and others in the productive zone of tension as much as possible over time. Having authority, whether formal a job description or title or informal through influence , is necessary but insufficient to the effective exercise of leadership.
Leadership is an activity that helps others see what they need to do and supplies them with the tools and feedback they need to make progress. Leading in this way also means trying things, really seeing what happens as a result, and then trying again. When the work at hand is adaptive change, avoidance can show up if people are overwhelmed with above the productive range or disengaged from work below the productive range. Examples of work avoidance. The challenge in the exercise of leadership is that the behavior looks the same above the productive zone and below the productive zone.
When the person is below the threshold of learning, or below the productive zone, the heat is too low and the same behaviors show up. When work avoidance resistance shows up, it is a signal that you are losing influence. An adaptive leader must then decide what to try to bring the person back into productive engagement with the work.
It is critical to understand that either situation can result in identical avoidance behaviors. In reality, this usually makes things worse, since in healthcare it is a safe bet that for most people, the heat is way too high, and their resistance means they are seriously overwhelmed. When you meet resistance, try lowering the heat first by validating the difficulty of the situation or by simplifying and clarifying the work.
Break the work into steps, or provide or restore resources like your attention, time, or training. At first, it can seem like lowering the heat means taking somebody off the hook, when in fact, you are trying to help put them back in the game. Try it the next time you meet resistance. Most of the resistance you will see means the heat is too high. Lowering the heat is compassionate, builds relationships, and gets results. This enables leaders to gain a different perspective and gather insight, not only on issues but also on their own behaviors and beliefs.