For those interested in leading a team — or simply making it through this difficult market — I would recommend studying the exploits of a man who has been called the greatest leader on earth, bar none. I am referring to Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of the pre-eminent Antarctic explorers in the early 20th century.

As president of the National Association of Investment Professionals (NAIP), I have tried to use Shackleton's philosophy in the operations of the association. Much the same way, you can apply his leadership style to what you do in your business.

Neal F. Lane, former director of the National Science Foundation and a Shackleton fan, summarized the value of Shackleton's methods at the 1995 Michigan State commencement ceremony:

“It is only by building a sense of teamwork and community — just as Shackleton and his crew did 80 years ago — that we can overcome the unexpected detours and hurdles we encounter on our own journeys, and gain the satisfaction that ought to derive from such achievements. Those organizations — be they businesses, schools, colleges and universities, government agencies — that prepare themselves for the unexpected and help to build a sense of community will, in my opinion, become the leaders in the 21st century. The same is true for each of us as individuals.”

So how does one prepare for the unexpected and build a sense of community? One way is to read Shackleton's book, “South: A Memoir of the Endurance Voyage,” or Alfred Lansing's book “Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage.” They provide a clear picture of what “the boss” and his crew went through in discovering the South Pole. Also, for a read that synthesizes Shackleton's voyage with leadership techniques, read “Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons From the Great Antarctic Explorer” by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell.

According to Morrell and Capparell, developing leadership skills requires you to:

  • Cultivate a sense of compassion and responsibility for others. You have a bigger impact on the lives of those under you than you think.

  • Do your part to help create an upbeat environment at the workplace. A positive and cheerful atmosphere is important to productivity.

  • Broaden your cultural and social horizons beyond your usual experiences. Seeing things from a different perspective will give you greater flexibility in solving problems at work.

  • Be willing to venture in new directions to seize new opportunities and learn new skills.

  • Find a way to turn setbacks and failures to your advantage.

  • Be bold in vision and careful in planning. Dare to try something new, but be meticulous enough in your proposal to give your ideas a good chance of succeeding.

  • Learn from past mistakes — yours and those made by others. Sometimes the best teachers are bad bosses and negative experiences.

  • Never insist on reaching a goal at any cost. Goals must be achieved at a reasonable expense, without undue hardship on your staff.

  • Resist public disputes with rivals. Instead, engage in respectful competition. You may need their cooperation someday.

When possible, apply this advice to your life and business. And impress these principles on your management. You, your clients and the world in general would be better off if everyone adopted the lessons learned on the Endurance by Shackleton and his men.

T. Sheridan O'Keefe is a registered rep based in Minneapolis, and president of the National Association of Investment Professionals, a trade group for brokers and advisers. The NAIP can be reached at 952/322-6247. He can be contacted at tokeefe@naip.com.