When you come to build a team or need to select new members to join your organisation how do you attract new talent? You might place an advertisement in the relevant publication, web page or bulletin. You may socialise the vacancy through town hall meetings, your own network of contacts or on social media. How ever you do it I am sure that you are careful to include all of the benefits and rewards of joining the team and that you are careful to demonstrate the nature of the task and its responsibilities.
When Ernest Shackleton advertised to recruit crew for his 1914 Antarctic expedition he placed an advert in the New Your Times that read:
“Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.”
That may not sound that attractive, but it did appeal to many. Individuals with a sense of adventure, an appetite for exploration and a passion for discovery and maybe just a little bit of a yearning for fame and fortune. These were the type of people that Shackleton was intreated in, he knew the nature of the task and the demands that it would put upon the team and so he was careful to not hold anything back from them right from the outset.
Leading is difficult even in the best of times, leading during a time of difficulty or hardship requires not only determination and tenacity from the leader but also requires honesty and openness towards the team. If we know tough times are ahead or if we know that hard decisions need to be made the best thing we can do for our team is to be honest at the earliest opportunity. One sure fire way to demotivate a team is to keep them guessing in the face of hardship. Those we lead deserve honesty and transparency especially in these days.
Taking time to reflect on what your team needs to hear from you in the midst of our current situation would be a wise decision. What does your team need you to say to them in the coming weeks? Are there any uncertainties that you need to address head on? Remember in the absence of a narrative, people will make up their own. We cannot afford not to take the time and consider what needs to be said to our team and how often it needs to be said.
Another lesson that we can learn from Shackleton is what his priorities were when he selected his team. When we recruit a workforce or build a team there are many things we must be mindful of, some will value creativity, others the ability to work independently, some will value experience while others will value gifting. In selecting his team Shackleton had one over arching priority. Attitude. Shackleton gave places in his crew to people that were not as talented or experienced as others seeking the same position. He did this because they had the kind of attitude that he knew they would need for the task ahead. Above all else Shackleton valued attitude as the key attribute for his team members.
If team members need honesty above all else from their leader, the successful leader requires the right attitude above all else from their team members. What is your top priority when it comes to talent selection? Is there a skill, an attribute or a characteristic that your team members require above all else? Is that need central to your recruitment and selection process?
Ernest Shackleton himself is an interesting and somewhat controversial character. He had previously been to Antarctic on two occasions. The first time as part of one of Robert Scott’s ‘Discovery Expedition.’ Shackleton did not really get along with Scott and considered him to be ‘indecisive and insecure,’ he felt that Scott was more concerned with being liked by his men than he was with achieving the mission. Although the experience was strained, Shackleton remained part of Scott’s Discovery team until the expedition was complete. Afterwards Shackleton would remark that ‘he learnt from Scott all that a leader was not.’
Learning from those we do not get along with is a critical attribute of a successful leader. We often find ourselves unable to change a situation where we are under the leadership to those wefeel are incompetent or ineffective leaders. Perhaps we are at the mercy of an indecisive leader when all around know that what is most needed is for a decision to be made. Of course when we find ourselves in situations such as these we should set about an exit or improvement strategy, but to consider the frustrations and why we are feeling them, to reflect on the mistakes and their consequences will stand us in good stead.
For Shackleton to learn from Scott ‘all that a leader was not’ did not simply mean that he criticised or complained about him. It meant that he observed the weaknesses and their ramifications for both the mission and the team and he resolved to learn from Scott’s mistakes and shortcomings so that he would not fall into the same trap.
What have you learnt, not only from your own mistakes but from the mistakes of others? How have you let them inform what you do today? Even when we look to competitors in the market place we should be mindful not only to look to the most successful in order to learn from them but to also study those who have failed. What was the reason for their failure? What could they have done differently? What must we do in order to ensure we do not make the same mistakes?
Jonie Graham – March 2021
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