In the 1950s, Shackleton's tentmate on the ice, Reginald James, shared his memories of the Boss' leadership strategies...
His methods were much more subtle & persuasive than this. He was constantly on the watch for any break in morale, or any discontent, so that he could deal with it at once. He realized fully the enormous and almost instantaneous effect of food on the morale, and took all kinds of trouble to vary the ration or try some new way of cooking things, to issue a little tit-bit to commemorate something, a birthday for example, or some other anniversary. I spent 6 months in the same tent with him, and I know better than most how ceaseless was his thought for this kind of thing. His method was really the constant application of small corrections, unnoticed by nearly everyone, yet very potent in their cumulative effect.
I think he was preeminent as a leader, especially when things were going badly. He had a wonderful power of inspiring confidence and an uncanny flair for the right thing to do. He kept his plans elastic, and did not hesitate to change them completely with changing circumstances. We did not always think his judgment right at the time, but it always turned out to be so. I do not think there is any doubt that we all owe our lives to his leadership and his power of making a loyal & coherent party out of rather diverse elements.
“Not only the main problem but its details absorbed him. Food, how to get it, how to eke out our slender stock of preserved food to give the greatest variety to the eternal seal. How to keep everyone employed & cheerful, to keep sleeping bags dry, to nip any sign of pessimism in the bud, the best way of keeping the stores ready for an instant shift, all these things & many more occupied his thoughts by day & most of the night.”
Reginald James, physicist, Endurance