You may not have heard of Ernest Shackleton, but his crew of the Endurance owes their life to him, literally.

As written by the Inside History Newsletter:

“All year, the ship had been trapped, the ice pushing and pinching the hull, the wood howling in protest. Finally, on October 27, 1915, a new wave of pressure rippled across the ice, lifting the ship’s stern and tearing off its rudder and its keel. Freezing water began to rush in.

“She’s going, boys,” came the cry. “It’s time to get off.”

From the moment Ernest Shackleton and his crew aboard the British expedition ship, HMS Endurance had become immobilized 10 months earlier, they had been preparing for this moment. Now, those on board removed their last remaining belongings from the ship and set up camp on the ice. Twenty-five days later, what remained of the wreck convulsed once more, and the Endurance disappeared beneath the ice forever.”

This was Ernest Shackleton’s crew that he was talking to. A crew of 27 men, 69 dogs, and 1 cat, had left the South Georgia Island on December 5, 1914, in an attempt to reach the South Pole with the ultimate goal of crossing the Antarctic continent. 

Shackleton was the leader of this ship and crew. Two days into the last leg of the journey to the South Pole, the Endurance encountered pack ice. Slowly moving through the ice, the Endurance eventually became locked in and immobilized.  

After 9 months of being stuck in the ice, the Endurance can take no more. Shackleton realizes that the ship was going down and gives the order above: “it’s time to get off”. At that moment, he did not rage. He did not show his disappointment. He did not blame or find fault. He simply and calmly started spelling out what must be done to winter on the ice pack. He explained the dangers and the possibilities and he never lost his positivity or optimism for success.   

One month later, and after 1 failed attempt to march across the ice, Shackleton establishes “Patience Camp,” hoping that they will drift north, on an ice floe, to safety. Two and half months later the ice begins to split beneath them. Shackleton orders to launch their remaining small boats, and battling the open sea, they finally arrive on dry land at Elephant Island. But now they were marooned.

It had been 497 days since they left South Georgia, but their adventure and Shackleton’s leadership were far from over. After 9 days on the Island, knowing that rescue was not coming, Shackleton and 5 others set off in one of the lifeboats for a whaling station that was 800 miles away.

For 16 days they battled the ocean fighting angry seas, howling winds, and huge waves. The storms had given them every reason to give up, but under Shackleton’s leadership, persistence paid off and they came ashore. However, the winds had thrown them off course and their landing spot was actually on the opposite side of the island from the Whaling station.

For the next 36 hours 3 of the 6 men, climbed mountains and slide down glaciers as they hiked across the island to the Whaling Station. Upon arrival at the whaling station, the fisherman was amazed to see 3 men arrive from the mountainous side of the island! Shackleton had led his men but wept upon safely arriving at the whaling station.

After picking up the 3 remaining men on the other side of the South Georgia island, Shackleton set out to rescue his crew on Elephant Island. With the help of the whaling station, the government of Uruguay, and the Yelcho ship from Chile, Shackleton made 3 attempts to reach his men. On the 3rd try, 128 days after the small lifeboat had set out, Shackleton had safely rescued and saved all of his remaining men.

History can teach us so much, but this story shows the diligence of a leader who is positive, patient, optimistic, persistent, and ultimately committed to his team. It shows how much a team is willing to follow a leader that they trust. As you consider your leadership and the teams you work with, ask yourself:  

  • Do you show patience?  
  • Are you optimistic about future results?  
  • Do you keep your team informed and focused on the possibilities?   
  • Are you a leader that history will write about someday?

You can find more details about Shackleton and his expedition at