Last January we had our Sales Kickoff in Orlando. While I’d participated in several of these kickoffs since joining Pitney Bowes, this one was particularly memorable.
Our CEO Marc Lautenbach quoted some passages from a book titledEndurance. He talked about how the story is one of the best examples of leadership and perseverance that he had ever come across, and suggested we read it ourselves.
A moment of clarity
It was funny, when he started reading from it at kickoff, one passage immediately sounded familiar. A couple of months before, I was in the kitchen when my husband happened to read this advertisement out loud:
I remember hearing him and thinking, “Who would sign up for a suicidal mission...and why?”
My CEO put it into context.
The story of Endurance
The gist of the story is this: It is 1914, the peak of Europe's fascination with polar exploration and the eve of Britain's involvement in World War I. Shackleton and a crew of 27 men set out on the good ship Endurance to be the first to traverse Antarctica. They head south from South Georgia Island, a whaling outpost, despite warnings of pack ice, and within a month, the Endurance is frozen solid in ice. Although Antarctica is within sight, the ice floes carry the Endurance off course, away from land. Ten months later, in October 1915, the ship suffers irreparable damage by the massive ice floes and sinks; Shackleton and his crew abandon ship and camp on the ice.
With his men's survival, not Antarctica, as his new goal, Shackleton mounts several failed rescue attempts, the last of which gets his crew to uninhabited Elephant Island. From there, in April 1916, he and five others travel in a lifeboat back to South Georgia Island, where they cross the uncharted interior to secure help at a whaling station. After several attempts and four months, they return to rescue the remaining 22 men, all of whom are alive. Harvard University Gazette, 2004
An amazing tale of leadership and heroism
Whether the men in the book were recruited using this advertisement above (no trace of the actual ad has been found) or some other means, this is really an incredible story. The book itself is also an amazing read. You feel like you’re right there with Shackleton and his crew. You learn so much about endurance and perseverance, and on staying focused on the things that matter most.
I got so inspired by my CEO’s talk, by the book, by the story itself that I looked into it further. It turns out there are other articles and even business case studies.Business Leadership Lessons from the Shackleton Expedition turned out to be one of my favorites. In it, Professor Nancy F. Koehn of Harvard Business School describes researching and writing a case study, and the reactions she got from business leaders. She writes: “I was struck by Shackleton’s ability to respond to constantly changing circumstances… 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.”
I thought about the transformation journey that Marc Lautenbach is leading Pitney Bowes through. As he refocuses our company on growth opportunities, I can see why this book resonates for him. This is a time of great and positive change. It’s exciting to be part of it.
I really appreciate it when leaders share aspects of their thinking through books, social media, blogs, articles and meetings. How about you? You can findEndurance online, at the library, maybe even in your CEO’s office… It’s definitely worth a read.
Find me here @lorenahathaway