Leadership skills win Shackleton belated acclaim

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The Independent Online

Kenneth Branagh's dramatisation of the life of Sir Ernest Shackleton has sold 10,000 copies on video in only two months, thanks to a renewed interest in the explorer's management techniques.

Channel 4's drama, which, at £10m, was the most expensive it has made, has proved to be the broadcaster's biggest hit of the year. Dramas on video sell, on average, 3,000 to 5,000 copies.

The buzz that surrounds Shackleton, who died 80 years ago from a heart attack on his final expedition, is a peculiar belated triumph for the explorer who never succeeded in any of his missions. He is best known for his legendary Antarctic expedition of 1914 to 1916 when he tried to achieve "the first crossing of the last continent" but was struck by disaster.

Last month, an American football team considered to be rank outsiders, the New England Patriots, won the SuperBowl for the first time after their coach, Bill Belichick, adopted Shackleton's principles of leadership.

Mr Belichick took his players to see a film on the explorer and together they read his biography aloud to replace individualistic self-belief with an unbeatable team spirit.

The coach had been inspired by the way Shackleton managed to bring all his men home safely after his ship, Endurance, had become trapped in pack ice in January 1914. After 10 months, crushed by ice pressure, it sank.

The crew marched for three months across the frozen wastes of Antarctica and then rowed to South Georgia. Shackleton and two others then trekked through glacier-clad mountains to find help.

Mr Belichick's admiration for Sir Ernest is not unique. Shackleton's Way, a book on the explorer's management style that was published last year, has been adopted by big business as a motivational bible.

One bank in America is reported to have bought 4,000 copies to distribute to its staff. In Britain, it sold 30,000 copies in hardback, making it the top-selling new business book of 2001, and was shortlisted for the WH Smith book awards.

Sian Flynn, exhibitions manager at the National Maritime Museum, which staged an exhibition highlighting Shackleton's adventures, said there was no surprise the story had been noticed by business. "He had strong man- management skills ... and a very nurturing style," she said.

"Scott was part of the Establishment, a late Victorian Royal Navy man and very hierarchical – men and officers were kept apart. But Shackleton was an Anglo-Irish outsider, and merchant, not Royal, Navy, who developed his own style to be one of the men as well as a leader."

Shackleton also used to keep near by those he thought likely to undermine him or affect group confidence. He was generous – for instance, he would stop everyone to eat when only one person appeared to be flagging.

Shackleton's Way was written by the journalist Stephanie Capparell and the financial executive Margot Morrell. Among their observations were that leadership is a learnt skill, because Shackleton got better at it. They noted how he chose his staff, hiring a second-in-command who complemented his skills, and selecting cheerful, optimistic people for the crew.

Shackleton's popularity has now reached such heights that the actor Russell Crowe is being tipped to play him in a Hollywood film.