POWER POINTS: Leading at the Edge : Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition by Dennis T. Perkins

Leading at the Edge : Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition

Ernest Shackleton’s adventure is one of the most noteworthy adventures of all time. This story of boldness, imagination, and rugged determination is PACKED TO THE BRIM with leadership lessons! Dennis Perkins does a fine job of distilling the best lessons from this extraordinary story! 

***Disclaimer: Part Two of this book is “Case Studies”. I did not read this entire section… because I don’t particularly care about these case studies. You might though… so read away!


STRATEGY #1 – Vision and Quick Victories: Never lose sight of the ultimate goal, and focus energy on short term objectives.

  • Leaders are always looking for “ideas in a form they can remember.” Stories are one of the best ways to teach memorable leadership maxims.


  • Shackleton’s family motto: “Fortitudine Vincimus” (By endurance we conquer).


  • While pursuing the long-term goal, be sure to focus on the critical short-term tasks that create momentum and ensure survival.


  • Overcome uncertainty with ritual and structure! “When leaders move into unexplored terrain, ambiguity and uncertainty are inevitable. Establishing critical organizational structures – a ‘matter-of-fact groove’ – can give people the sense of order they need to be productive.” Maintaining a “Business as usual” structure is critical in times of chaos. 


  • In times of chaos, look for opportunities and tasks that will distract the negative energies of the team and occupy them with the “ordinary cares of life.”


  • “There is nothing quite like responsibility – especially a role in which others depend on you – to focus your attention. As a leader, you must continually scan for people who exhibit nervousness and anxiety. When you find them, figure out a way to capture that free-floating energy. 


  • “Anxiety is energy without a goal.”

STRATEGY #2 – Symbolism and Personal Example: Set a personal example with visible, memorable symbols and behaviors.

  • “Leaders need to be aware that their personal presences is a unique source of energy and power.”

STRATEGY #3 – Optimism and Reality: Instill optimism and self-confidence, but stay grounded in reality.

  • Shackleton “appreciated how deeply one man, or a small group of men, could affect the psychology of the others.”


  • Shackleton “spent time nourishing the spirit of optimism within himself.” His attitude was “You’ve damn well got to be optimistic.”


  • When caught in the middle of a blizzard on his first expedition to the South Pole, Shackleton spent time reading Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.” (I LOVE this! He found time/space to read! He took this kind of weighty literature with him on this trip!)


  • When stranded in the middle of the frozen Antarctic sea, Shackleton “led the men in a lively discussion about the prospect of an expedition to Alaska! […] It provided a future focus and promise that there would be another adventure.”


  • Question: “How candid should a leader be in sharing their uncensored doubts and inner feelings when faced with adversity?” Answer: “There are times in which leaders need to maintain their composure, despite the natural inclination to express feelings of discouragement, fear, or even despair. This is not to say that they should shield others from reality or withhold basic information about the situation. Rather, it is to say that there are times at ‘The Edge’ in which the perceived attitude of the leader is a powerful force that can create energy and optimism or fear and pessimism. […] I believe the role of the leader demands that personal fears are best controlled or dampened until negative information is digested. Then a discussion of concerns can be coupled with potential solutions and a positive message of hope for the future.


  • Effective leadership demands that the leader embrace the harsh reality while maintaining optimism. This is what Jim Collins explains in the “Stockdale Paradox”.

STRATEGY #4 – Stamina: Take care of yourself: maintain your stamina and let go of guilt.

  • “There is an inherent tension between taking care of one’s self – of preserving one’s own well-being – and accomplishing the mission at any cost.”


  • There may be times when you choose to make personal sacrifice to further or accomplish the mission – but be careful. “As the leader, you are the foundation of your expedition. If you fail to maintain your own stamina, then you will be unable to summon the energy need to reach The Edge. Furthermore, taking care of yourself is essential because others in your team will take their cues from your behavior. If you want others to have the reserves of energy they will need to do their jobs, you will need to reinforce that message by personal example.


  • “‘One hand for the sailor and one hand for the ship.’ In other words, do what you need to do to accomplish your work – but make sure that you keep one hand free to keep yourself from being washed overboard.”


  • “Fischer was strong, but he was not invincible.” Commentary on Scott Fischer, a famous mountain climber who died on Mt. Everest because he exceeded his personal reserves. What is true of Fischer is true of you. You may be strong… but you are NOT invincible.


  • Leading at The Edge will put leaders in situations where they must make risky decisions. Sometimes they will make the wrong one. Sometimes people will be hurt, money will be lost, equipment destroyed, etc. Leaders must learn from their mistakes, make necessary adjustments, and move forward refusing to be crippled by guilt.

STRATEGY #5 – The Team Message: Reinforce the team message constantly: “We are one – we live or die together.”

  • “Sustained success turns on cohesive effort.”


  • “Keep everyone informed, involved, and thinking about solutions.”


  • “Team cohesiveness is never advanced by overlooking individuals who fail to pull their weight.” Address, quickly, underperformers.

STRATEGY #6 – Core Team Values: Minimize status differences and insist on courtesy and mutual respect.

  • “Hierarchy itself is not the problem. People understand the need  for legitimate authority and for differences in salaries, roles, and titles. What fragments a group is the perception of an ‘elite’ upper class’ – a sense of superiority conferred on a chosen few. Thus, the critical leadership challenge is to create an environment in which each person experiences a basic sense of respect regardless of his or her role in the organization.”


  • Examples of actions that will dismantle a culture of “elitism” are: thoughtful resource allocation, information distribution, a fair approach to project/task assignment, leadership involvement (i.e. leadership in the trenches), accessibility to leadership and opportunity for personal/professional development.

STRATEGY #7 – Conflict: Master conflict – deal with anger in small doses, engage dissidents, and avoid needless power struggles.

  • Conflict is unavoidable, particularly in high speed organizations. The challenge for leaders is NOT how to eliminate conflict, but how to manage it so that it is productive.


  • “Ironically, the emphasis on teamwork in today’s corporate culture can serve to drive conflicts underground.”


  • Three reasons to deal with conflict, anger, and negative feelings in small doses:
    • “Conflict not expressed means that problems are not being confronted.”
    • “Conflict not expressed directly surfaces in other, non-productive ways.
    • “Conflict not expressed and resolved can escalate out of control, with disastrous consequences.”


  • Conflict and caring are NOT mutually exclusive.


  • What is your process for surfacing potential anger points and “lurking problems”?


  • Avoid “family secrets” in the work place! Discuss the things that everyone knows! Dismantle anxiety through discussion!


  • “Shackleton clearly recognized that hurt feelings needed immediate attention to prevent anger or resentment from building.”


  • “In difficult leadership situations, we are often tempted to ignore or isolate individuals whose personalities rub us the wrong way or who have a knack for stirring up trouble. While this is an understandable reaction, it is the wrong one. It only creates space for further problems, and rejecting dissidents is ultimately detrimental to the organization. A more productive response – however counterintuitive it may seem – requires doing just the opposite:
    • Identify those individuals or groups that may be undermining your leadership.
    • Be proactive and keep troublemakers close by.
    • Find ways to minimize the negative impact of their behaviors.
    • Make sure these people are engaged, in some way, in the decision-making process.
    • Be willing to set limits, and make it clear that this works both ways. Inappropriate, rude, or bullying behavior cannot be tolerated.
    • Avoid the temptation to denigrate malcontents and keep your personal opinions about people to yourself – and your closest advisers.


  • Sometimes “walking away” from a dissident is the best option. (Knowing when to “Proverbs 26:4-5” is a point of distinction for wise and effective leaders).


  • Avoid creating situations in which people feel trapped. Feeling “trapped” causes people to escalate the conflict because they see no way out. Always give your opponent a Golden Bridge.”

STRATEGY #8 – Lighten Up: Find something to celebrate and something to laugh about.

  • “Under extreme pressure, the ability to lighten up, celebrate, and laugh can make all the difference. It can make a spiral of depression and stimulate creativity. It can enable people to step back and get psychological distance on their problems. It can cut through fear and tension. Finally, it can enable a team to refocus, reenergize, and surmount daunting obstacles.”


  • “Celebration and humor are neither superfluous nor luxuries. They are imperatives.”


  • “If you can’t fix it, feature it.” (Figure out how to make your liability an asset. NOTE: humor will help you in this venture)


  • “Effective leaders find ways of building celebration into the culture of their organization.”


  • Be on the lookout for “vital mental medicine” in your organization. For Shackleton, it was a twelve pound Zither Banjo that he rescued from the sinking Endurance. He knew that “on an ice-floe any little diversion is more welcome than people living in civilized conditions can perhaps imagine” (Frank Worley’s diary).


  • “Humor is one of the most effective leadership tools.”

STRATEGY #9 – Risk: Be willing to take the Big Risk.

  • Shackleton “was brave, the bravest man I have seen, but he was never foolhardy. When necessary he would undertake the most dangerous things, and do so fearlessly; but always would he approach them in a thoughtful manner and perform them in the safest way.” Frank Worley


  • Never take an unnecessary chance, but when a risk is justified do not hesitate. 


  • “A man sits as many risks as he runs.” Henry David Thoreau


  • There are times when doing nothing, or not deciding, is more dangerous than doing something, or making a bold decision.


  • In some situations, “the decision that appears to be the safe choice is often the one that carries with it the greatest risk.”


  • “You can’t steal second with one foot on first.” David Pottruck

STRATEGY #10 – Tenacious Creativity: Never give up – there’s always another move.

  • “The expedition’s ability to reach safety was due to more than simple persistence. The success of Shackleton’s crew also depended on the ability to stand in the face of death and think creatively about potential solutions.”


  • Expect things to go wrong with greater frequency and magnitude when living “on the edge.” Once you are prepared for this, everything becomes a normal part of your rhythm. 


  • “The unshakable belief that there is always another move will give you the energy to search for solutions, and creativity will give you the ability to find them.”


Eating Frogs and Turds

This morning I walked with a couple of my girls (we were too tired to run). While we were walking we had a great conversation about doing difficult things.

I was able to string together some great, and funny, pieces of advice I’ve heard from others. It went like this…

If you eat a frog, first thing in the morning, everything else will be easy by comparison.

This is Brian Tracy’s way of encouraging people to stop procrastinating on the hard things! Do them first… and everything else will be easy in comparison! He wrote a book by that title.

The second piece of advice made us all laugh. Well… at least me. It made me laugh (the girls just rolled their eyes).

I can’t recall exactly who said it, but, unfortunately, it’s not original. Here goes…

If you have to eat a turd, don’t nibble!

In other words, if you have to do something that’s difficult… don’t take forever! Get it done quickly!

That’s such good advice!

Do the hard things first… and do them quick. That’s a formula for a good day (assuming you brush your teeth afterwards)!

Hug the Struggle

hugBen Horowitz wrote a New York Times bestseller called, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things.” In this book, he discusses the underbelly of leadership; the hard and unglamorous stuff that few talk about or consider. He tells and dissects leadership experiences… the hard ones… the REAL hard ones!

I actually picked this book up when I heard Bill Hybels recommend it.

Anyhow, the other day I was reading “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, and came across a “poem” that Horowitz wrote. It flowed out of his experiences, and was sparked by a sentence from Karl Marx, “Life is struggle.” Here’s Ben…

The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place.

The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.

The Struggle is when your employees think you are lying and you think they may be right.

The Struggle is when food loses its taste.

The Struggle is when you don’t believe you should be CEO of your company. The Struggle is when you know that you are in over your head and you know that you cannot be replaced. The Struggle is when everybody thinks you are an idiot, but nobody will fire you. The Struggle is where self-doubt becomes self-hatred.

The Struggle is when you are having a conversation with someone and you can’t hear a word that they are saying because all you can hear is The Struggle.

The Struggle is when you want the pain to stop. The Struggle is unhappiness.

The Struggle is when you go on vacation to feel better and you feel worse.

The Struggle is when you are surrounded by people and you are all alone. The Struggle has no mercy.

The Struggle is the land of broken promises and crushed dreams. The Struggle is a cold sweat. The Struggle is where your guts boil so much that you feel like you are going to spit blood.

The Struggle is not failure, but it causes failure. Especially if you are weak. Always if you are weak.

Most people are not strong enough.

Every great entrepreneur from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg went through The Struggle and struggle they did, so you are not alone. But that does not mean that you will make it. You may not make it. That is why it is The Struggle.

The Struggle is where greatness comes from.

AHHH!!! I love and hate this! I hate it, because I know how it feels. I love it, because I know that “the struggle” will produce something, if I don’t run… or quit!

So, stay in the game! Pray often. Work hard. Get counsel. Cry. Cuss (not all the time, but sometimes… and not at anyone!). Exercise. Eat some food. Get some rest… and get back into the struggle! The struggle is your friend! It builds your strength and prepares you for the next level! Hug the struggle!

You can get the book (I recommend it), or you can read this article on “the struggle”.

Thinking about “Urgency”

I’ve been thinking a lot about urgency lately.

Here are a few unedited and non-finalized thoughts about this subject:

  • When I am urgent about something I am laser-focused on it.
  • It is almost impossible to be urgent about multiple things simultaneously.
  • Urgency in one area generally means neglect of other areas.
  • How do I live with urgency while maintaining the other areas of my life?
  • It is impossible to work with urgency and multi-task at the same time.
  • Complacency is the opposite of urgency.

I know there is more to say and think about this… and I’m going to be doing that. In the meantime, what say you about this matter of “urgency”?

Do you feel a sense of urgency in any area of your life?

Have you been able to multi-task when you feel urgent?

What other questions should I be thinking about as I process this idea?

The genesis of this line of thinking came from Craig Groeschel’s podcast called “Institutionalizing Urgency.” Check it out in the links below:



Making space in a packed life

Making Space1“When good things begin to happen, other good things begin to fall through the cracks.”

That is exactly what happened to the leaders of the church when it was in its early days. It’s something that happens to leaders today too. Things start going well, and then things start falling apart, and it’s often the important things that go first: spiritual vitality, relationships, physical well-being, emotional strength, mental growth, etc.

Look at this story found in the book of Acts (6:1-7) (I’m going to insert comments in bold throughout this story):

…as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.

Believers were “rapidly multiplying.” That’s a good thing.

Meeting basic needs, like distributing food to the poor, is a good thing, but it was falling through the cracks because the leaders were too busy… they had no space in their lives.

When good things start falling through the cracks “rumblings of discontent” will soon follow. Sometimes those rumblings come from inside your home. Sometimes they come from inside your body. Sometimes they come from the organization you lead. 

How long it takes for them to come and from where they come are different for each person. What is always true though is that when good things get ignored the rumblings will come.

So what do we do? Look at what the Apostles did:

So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”

They made a decision to let go of some things. They did not STOP them from happening, but gave them over to others to execute.

Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.

Look at what happened when the leaders let go of those extra responsibilities and focused on their sweet spot…

So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

Things went gangbusters when the leaders made space in their lives to function in and lead out of their sweetspot!

Now here’s the thing, if you’re in any kind of leadership position, you are going to be responsible for LOTS of people and details… and if you insist on handling everything you will soon run out of space in your life and the rumblings will begin.

Here’s something we talked about yesterday at Church180:

The things you hold onto will determine how far you go.

If you insist of doing everything and letting go of nothing… you will run out of space, the people around you will become discontent and unfulfilled… and you and your organization will soon flatline.
The alternative is letting some things go either by choosing to STOP doing them or HANDING THEM OFF to other people.
Making the decision to “hand off” is tough… especially if you love and feel the responsibility of your organization, but when you do hand off you will discover that there are incredibly passionate and capable people around you that can do things so well that the organization will be happier, healthier, and more vibrant than when you were trying to do it all yourself!
So are some self-evaluation questions for you (and me):
  • Are good things happening in your life? Business? Church? Organization?
  • Have you taken time to determine if other good things are slipping through the cracks as a result?
  • What do you, the leader, need to focus your energy and time on doing?
  • What do you need to stop doing?
  • What do you need to hand off to a team?
  • Are you willing to let go of some things and trust others to do them?

As you’re processing this, remember that the things you hold onto will determine how far you go!

If you are interested in hearing how I taught this story yesterday you can watch it here.


When you’re the best man in the room… go to another room.

gym-etiquette_2101068c1This morning I had a conversation with someone about the value of setting goals.

This person is trying to figure out what goals to set. For all intents and purposes this person is doing well: physically attractive, financially set, intellectually sharp, relationally fulfilled. What else could someone want? Right?

We talked for a while and I began to ask some questions… questions that have me thinking and might be helpful for you to process as well:

  • What happens when you’re the strongest person in the gym?
  • What happens when you’re smartest person in the room?
  • What happens when you’re the best… or at least better than those around you?

Not always, but often, you will begin to stagnate. You will be tempted to settle… because you’re already at the top (as least as far as you can tell).

You may be tempted to pride… after all, you’re stronger, smarter, richer, prettier, funnier, etc. than the rest of your friends so what else is there to do but keep doing what got you there?!

That’s a dangerous place to be!

John Maxwell teaches a principle that goes something like this:

If you’re always the biggest guy in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

I’ve found that when I am surrounded by people who are better than I am, it makes me want to be better! It makes me think deeper, dream bigger, work harder, and stick with it longer!

The gym where I train is filled with strong people! Heck, the women in our gym are stronger than the men in most gyms! There are multiple men who are deadlifting over 600 pounds and squatting well over 500 pounds. Benching 300 pounds at our gym won’t even get you on the “strongest lifters in the gym” board.

In most gyms I’d be considered a pretty strong dude. In Brutal Iron Gym, when I do a heavy lift my buddies look at me and say, “Are you done warming up yet?” (Then they celebrate my lift… because that’s how we roll at BIG).

I like that… I like it because it drives me to work harder and be better!

Being surrounded by people who are better than I am makes me want to be better… and it shows me HOW to be better!

The same is true in every other area of life:

  • I want to be a great husband… so I need to spend time around awesome husbands.
  • I want to handle my money well… so I need to spend time around people who handle their money well.
  • I want to represent Jesus well… so I need to hang out around people who live out their faith consistently and well.
  • I want to be a great dad…
  • I want to be a great leader…
  • I want to be a great communicator…

You get the point.

If you want to be better you can’t always be the best in the room! You’ve got to put yourself in environments where you are surrounded by people who are better than you.

Now here’s an important caveat:

This is not a call for us to self-denigrate! This is not the time to begin private messaging yourself saying “You’re no good” or “You’re never going to be that good”… etc. NOPE! This is the time and place to be inspired… to ask questions… to take notes… to see how those better than you are performing so that you can perform that way too!

So, if you’re not sure what goals to set or how to get unstuck… get around people who are better than you! I think you might just like what happens when you’re not the best person in the room!

The “Gut Whisper”

What if you did what everyone is telling you not to do… but your gut was telling you “is the right thing to do”?

Jesus did it. Martin Luther King Jr. did it. There are others, plenty of others, who did it too.


Has there ever been a time that your “gut” was wrong?

In hindsight I see that some of my biggest mistakes and deepest regrets are the result of ignoring my gut. Likewise, my biggest wins are often the result of following that “gut whisper.”

It is possible that your “gut” can be wrong… but it’s not as often as you think.

The biggest obstacle to listening to your “gut” is your head… fear!

Don’t let the bean counter in your head shut down the entrepreneur in your gut!

Remember this, everything you want is on the other side of fear, and what lies over there is whispering to you… through your gut.