The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

RLF Reflection: Leadership Lessons from Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition

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On January 7th, Will Dickerman gave a presentation on leadership qualities as displayed by a historical polar explorer Earnest Shackleton on his Antarctic expedition. Shackleton’s ship sunk; he split up the crew; left one group with one of them in-charge, took a smaller group with him and risked his life going to another island on a life-boat. Despite landing on the wrong side of the island, he was not discouraged but after careful consideration he made a judgement call to leave behind some of the injured crew and went on a land expedition. Eventually he managed to get help and went back for his crew leading them all to safety. According to Dickerman, perseverance, good judgement, risk-taking are crucial leadership qualities as exemplified by Shackleton. He believes that through never giving up on things one values, delegating tasks to those best suited to handle them and getting out of one’s comfort zone results in achieving set goals.


Although Shackleton’s journey was a very dire situation, there is something to learn from it in daily leadership roles. When working under pressure and extreme conditions, it is necessary to be equipped with leadership qualities that will guide the team toward their set vision. Some of the primary qualities that come in handy include being a source of encouragement to one’s team by not giving up too easily and feeling dejected. Additionally, working with the available resources and time constraints to optimize on the group’s productivity will lead a step closer in working through challenges. A leader should also be ready to push themselves and take strategic actions in order to reach their goal. Such actions may include dedicating tasks to the people in the team which builds relationships with the team-members they are leading and also makes everyone feel included and their contribution valued. More importantly, this leads to task completion in an effective manner for the overall good of everyone in the team.


-Written by Cynthia Bundi, Class of 2021 Rockefeller Leadership Fellow 

As Rockefeller Leadership Fellows, seniors gain a better understanding of the qualities and responsibilities expected of leaders. As Fellows take part in the workshops, discussions, and team-building exercises, they examine their skills, qualities, and attributes as leaders and analyze how these influence teamwork and achieving goals. 

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences