Leadership: Hard to pin down?

My bookshelf contains at least 25 books on leadership. But that pales in comparison to the 72,000 books on Amazon with “leadership” in the title!

Here’s a great one- Jim Collin’s latest book Great By Choice. In the book he based some of his key leadership principles upon two other books: High Exposure by David Brashears (the Everest disaster) and The Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford (the Antarctic race to be first to the South Pole between Scott and Amundsen.)

Then just for good measure I attended the exhibit of the Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage at a local museum. Shackleton’s ship was trapped and crushed by the ice and his crew was stuck for 18 months in
the Antarctic before they were rescued.

In The Last Place on Earth, Scott was the shining darling of the British press- an authentic romantic action hero. On the other hand, Amundsen was the rugged individualist who could care less about the press. Each was a fitting representative of their countries image, Scott a member of the most powerful navy in the world living on an estate, and Amundsen living in the back country of Norway.

Both men had the same goal of being the first to reach the South Pole. Their stark differences were very evident in planning and organization. Amundsen trained with Eskimos and sled dogs while Scott used horses and  new mechanical sleds that were not tested. When the sleds broke down and the horses had to be killed Scott’s men had to pull the sleds themselves. In the end Amundsen beat Scott by 5 weeks and had enough food left over for a few weeks. Scott’s party died of starvation on their way back to the base camp.

Ernest Shackleton had been with Scott on a previous expedition that also was a disaster. Although he was a Brit like Scott with similar beliefs and values he had a better leadership style. When Shackleton’s ship was trapped in the ice he had to keep up the spirits of the men.  (Which is no easy task when you are trapped on the ice for months!)  When the ice finally crushed the ship they had to live on the ice. This went on for 18 months. Scott would blame the weather for his problems where Shackleton realized his first priority was saving his crew and not affixing blame!

In Brashears book he was on the mountain to make the first IMAX film from on top of Everest. At the same time several guides were leading their clients up the mountain. Brashears brought enough oxygen that if he could not ascend on the first try he could go down and come back up on a better day. The other guides only had enough oxygen for one try.

Brashears made the decision to go back down even though the weather was fine. Why?  Because he saw the number of climbers on the mountain and knew that if anything happened above they would not be able to get below the “death line” in time. As everyone knows the storm hit and nine people died. Brashears, even though it would jeopardize a multimillion dollar project, gave away half of his oxygen tanks in order for the rescue parties to save some of the stranded parties.

The similarity here is once again planning and organization. I realize comparing a cleaning company to the Everest or Antarctic expeditions is a stretch but poor planning could mean the death of your business. For example…

What if you do a great coupon offer on Groupon and 500 people take you up on the offer? Your expiration date is 60 days from the coupon date which means you must clean 9 jobs every day seven days a week for two months!  Come on- THINK! You will be losing money on every job and you won’t be able service any of your regular (profitable) customers. You are trapped above the death zone!

Now reflect if you can motivate/manage your employees the way Shackleton did? How do you handle the slow winter months? If you are a restoration company how do you handle a tornado, flood, or natural disaster?

Reading about leadership can help improve your skills. There are as many different ways of leadership as there are books on Amazon. Pick out the style that most fits with your personality and values. People will always look at how you handle the difficult times.

So are you a “Scott” or an “Amundsen”? It’s time to become a leader!  That’s right- get organized and plan for the future of your business!

Bill Yeadon

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