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Ernest Shackleton's boat in the sea

People wanted for a hazardous journey

Tim Cox
July 23, 2020

Leadership and Management have never been easy endeavours. Recent events have magnified and exacerbated the challenges. It got us wondering…who would sign up to lead right now?

Early in the 20th Century the British explorer Ernest Shackleton posted, or more likely did not post, a newspaper advertisement.

Its aim was to recruit volunteers for an upcoming expedition to the South Pole. Oft quoted as the best job ad ever, even if it did not exist, it’s still laudable as a fine example of copywriting:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

The promise, the attraction even, was to explore the unknown in the confident expectation of hardship. The key aspect of this though, was that the would-be explorers were volunteers. Whilst not all current leadership experiences will equate to the ordeals of moving on foot through Antarctica, navigating the last few months has been a serious challenge for most. Who would volunteer for what we have been experiencing?

We wondered … if we were to re-work Shackleton’s ad… what words would we use to recruit managers right now?  

Which words would be frank and honest and yet hold appeal? Which words could convey the seriousness of the challenge and the appeal of the potential rewards?

Our first step is to update the opening sentence. An initial draft saw a move to “Men and Women…” Not very July 2020. We graduated to “Women and Men…” and then to “People…”.

Before we continue with this self-imposed task we need a method.

The 2- step method

Step 1 - Identify:

  • The current and recent challenges faced by managers and leaders.
  • The strengths and skills they have demonstrated.
  • The future opportunities and possibilities that may be out there in the wilderness of the future.

Step 2 – Bring out the bellows! Breathe life into the campfire stove and get wordsmithing!

Step 1

Depending on which date is politically expedient, UK lockdown began on the 16th or 23rd of March. Other countries experienced ‘lock-down’, or ‘quarantine’, at similar times. Most businesses and organisations faced critical challenges. Some turned to MF for help.

Between 16th March and July 1st, the MF team has:

  • Coached over 150 individual leaders and managers from twenty organisations across seven countries.
  • Facilitated Round Table discussions with hundreds of leaders spanning multiple continents.
  • Designed, hosted and lead almost fifty virtual workshops attended by thousands of managers and leaders from varied sectors.

These interactions have revealed to us the challenges leaders have faced and continue to face, and the skills and strengths they have displayed. They have also signposted to us significant opportunities to embrace.

The key Leadership Challenges

  • Unprecedented uncertainty. Battling to provide clarity when there was little to be had.
  • Trying to ‘read’ people without the usual physical clues provided in face to face interaction.
  • Financial survival. Reduced revenues and fixed costs
  • Supporting team members directly impacted by COVID-19.
  • Giving challenging feedback to those not performing.
  • Communicating difficult decisions and changes, while maintaining morale and motivation
  • Juggling work and family commitments.
  • Adaptation. Working out how the organisation needs to change and adapt

The key Leadership Strengths and Skills on show

  • Regular and consistent communication
  • Listening at depth
  • Facilitating joint problem solving across functions
  • Achieving the balance between performance and well-being
  • Acknowledging anxiety in ourselves and allowing it in others – it’s okay to be feeling…
  • Outcome focus. Galvanising people behind a meaningful ambition, however short term it might be.
  • Maintaining calm and resilience
  • Treating people with compassion and sensitivity

The key opportunities for organisations

  • Re-contracting with staff teams.
  • Establishing closer relationships with customers.
  • Embracing diversity like never before.
  • Refocusing of values.
  • Thinking more deeply about the social purpose of the organisation.
  • Rethinking work patterns with staff wellbeing in mind.
  • Driving innovation. Achieving new efficiencies and better processes.
  • Provide opportunities for new leaders to step up.

Step 2

Bring out the bellows - we’re back to the wordsmithing!

Another ad unlikely to be published…

“People wanted for an epic journey into an unknown future. Volatile conditions, complex challenges and shifting goalposts expected. Complete success unlikely. Profound opportunities for growth and achievement for the brave.”

Good luck on your journey. We’ll be here to support.

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