How does high-stakes leadership require improv and adaptability?

Photo by Cassie Matias on Unsplash
Tried and Tested
Book, Film
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Purpose for Students
Explore Examples
Date Added: 
June 2019

Relationship to Ambiguity

In 1959, Alfred Lansing wrote Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage. This gripping tale of British explorer Ernest Shackleton's 1914 attempt to reach the South Pole might be one of the greatest adventure stories of the modern age.  The story has been retold in many formats, including the 2002 British TV film Shackleton, as well as a PBS-produced documentary film Chasing Shackleton.

The entire book is a lesson in leadership and how so much is out of our control as leaders.  One must learn to adapt and embrace ambiguity, lest one freezes to death on the ice in Antartica.




Have students read the book (or watch the film) and discuss how Shackleton led his crew through an incredibly stressful situation.  Importantly, he returned all of them alive, against all odds.  Leadership is ambiguous. Get used to it!




While we as readers know how the story ends, the people on that voyage didn't while they were in the middle of it.  It's a useful exercise or discussion topic to explore how students would see themselves in the role of Shackleton or his shipmates.  How would they have responded when confronted with that type of ambiguity?  What would they have felt or done?  You could even try role playing some of the scenes to explore this.

Design Abilities Used

Shackleton had to be an expert communicator. This was a dire situation, and without communication, it would not have ended as it did.  Because of the rapidly changing weather and environment, Shackleton had to constantly experiment, as well.


Submitted by:

Sarah Soule
Sarah Soule
Professor, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Design Abilities Used

Experiment Rapidly
Communicate Deliberately
Learn More about Design Abilities 


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