Retention & Engagement

How a 1914 Antarctic Expedition Can Help You Engage and Motivate Your Teams

Our employees are more than just the number we pay them. As we know from some of our Fridays With Vistage seminars, attracting and keeping quality talent will be one of the biggest challenges for companies in 2015 and the years to come. But how do we become types of leaders that go beyond the paycheck to keep staff collectively and individually engaged and motivated?
In a recent Fridays with Vistage seminar, Mike Pierce pulled from Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition to show business leaders how to conquer the challenges of employee engagement.

Explorers are a lot like the leaders of the best companies – both take a group of people beyond the known limits, somewhere between difficult and dangerous, but with huge payoffs. These leaders are masters at driving morale and making decisions that best benefit the group.

Antarctica is the highest, driest, windiest, coldest, place on earth – no one lives there permanently. Here’s how Mike compared it to business:

  • Barriers: Covers the continent averages more than a mile. Represents the roadblocks in our professional lives.
  • Crevices: Over 100 foot drops to fall into. Represents the perils of change
  • Wind Forces: 50-100 mph that push against you. Represents the wear down employees feel when being run down by routine.

*The only difference between the two is that the Antarctic elements are more visible and pronounced.

What’s Best for the Group

Shackleton once said, “I love it when things are hard and I hate it when things are easy.” In 1908, no one had been to the South Pole yet, which was a big deal to the United Kingdom the way the space race in the 60s was for the US.  Shackleton and his crew made it within 97 nautical miles of the South Pole. They hiked 700 miles from their ship. 100 more miles would have made it to the South Pole. Shackleton turned around and left because he was concerned that the margin of safety was becoming too thin, not enough food and fuel.

When there’s a lot to gain but a conflict of interest on what’s best for the team, sometimes leaders have to make difficult choices. Great leaders will think objectively and make choices based on what’s best for the group.

Choosing Talent

Shackleton put a want ad together for men on the expedition: Men wanted, for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.

This ad teaches us a lot for recruiting: story telling, being honest/transparent sometimes will round up the best talent. With 5000 applicants, Shackleton chose 27 men. He was most interested in the character of the men he chose.

Mike says: It’s easy for applicants to change the perception of what they are in interviews. That’s why Mike is a big fan of assessments, which really gives companies the objective truth of what an applicant is like inside, like an MRI.

Barriers and Crevices

Schackleton’s plan was to dock at a bay near the edge of the Pole, then stay on the ship through the dark winter, and set out across the pole in the spring. 20 miles short of the bay, they got stuck. Men tried to free the ship themselves to no avail.

Shackleton stopped them and had them play a soccer game to shake off their despair. He knew that the team’s biggest threat was not being physically stuck, it was the minds of his men – they couldn’t feel mentally stuck, they had to stay positive and active.

Circumstances beyond our control occur, and before we go about fixing the problem, we need to make sure we know what the real problem is. The biggest problem is not what’s most visible. We often attack a symptom not the root problem.

Mike says: One of the answers he often heard in the headhunting world is that people found themselves pushing against walls they couldn’t move, being held accountable for things they had zero control over. Is your team putting their time into things that can really move the needle on?

Mid-Winter’s Day Celebration

A main expedition challenge was that it would be dark for 4 months and tough on the minds of the crew. Shackleton decided ahead of time to create a holiday for the halfway through the 4 months to reward the team.

Disengagement happens when people are not recognized in a meaningful and timely way, and leaders combat that actively and meaningfully.

Mike says: How do you inspire and motivate people in ways other than money? Challenge the myth that employees only care about is money. When leaders understand how to make their employees feel like heroes, you’ll find staff will start coming in earlier, staying later and caring more.

Lead the Whole Person

How do you tie what your employees do everyday to the things that are most important to them? When a great leaders tie the employee’s personal goals to their jobs, watch them run better than ever before!

You have to lead the whole person. Shackleton led both the professional side of his men as well as the personal side of their needs, and his crew thrived.

Everyone has an Antarctica – what’s your goal?

Mike Pierce is an avid polar history fan, traveling to Antarctica twice, and setting multiple records in polar marathon running. With a B.A. in marketing and over 20 years in the headhunting industry, Mike brings a wealth of knowledge to the psychology of engaging, focusing, and motivating top performing people.

The Fridays with Vistage webinar series provides members with timely and compelling business information they can immediately apply to their businesses. From strategic planning to employee engagement, these hour-long webinars feature the best thought leaders in the business world today.

Learn more about our webinar series here.

Category: Retention & Engagement


About the Author: Jackie Robles

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