Profile of a Leader

In the depths of the polar winter, motor-expert and stores-keeper Thomas Orde-Lees came down with sciatica - often described as lower back pain and frequently caused by heavy lifting. Sir Ernest had also endured bouts of sciatica. He nursed Orde-Lees back to health in his own tiny cabin.


Orde-Lees recorded his close-up observations of Sir Ernest in his diary...


July 26, 1915

Sir Ernest has a wonderful character. Living (not dying thank goodness) in Sir Ernest's cabin & being with him so much all day I have had unique opportunities of studying his wonderful character in a way that I never could otherwise have done.


It may be rather mean of me to take advantage in this way of the accident & Sir Ernest's kindness which places me in a position to do so, but no doubt those who read this will not mind that; and Sir Ernest won't see it.


Perhaps the most remarkable thing that may at once be said of him is that, unlike most people, there is no underside to his character. One could not be on more intimate terms with him than I have been and yet, to my surprise, I find that he is precisely the same in intimacy as he is in public, in fact his outstanding frankness is, to my mind, his most characteristic attribute.


I have no hesitation is saying that whatever he says to his subordinates in approbation, in chiding or in giving advice or information is exactly what he really means, and at the same time he is always tactful without being in any way noticeably circumspect. He bears no resentment in private nor is he ever guilty of the slightest favoritism.


These qualities alone endear him to one and all and inspire that respect & confidence which make him pre-eminently the leader he is.


He is always careful to give his comrades the impression that he has absolute confidence in them, each in their own special sphere & yet he keeps a watchful eye on all.

For instance, I am in charge of all the provisions - a very responsible post - for on the accuracy of my issuing and checking the ultimate comfort of all largely depend, and yet, although I know I am far from perfect at such work, Sir Ernest has always left me entirely to myself to carry out the distribution of the provisions as I think best.


Of course, I have frequently asked his advice & sanction on certain points but apart from that he has never once come "spying" in my storerooms nor even asked me to render an account of my stewardship.


The reliance he places in one is certainly by far the best incentive one could have to do ones work conscientiously, and one always feels that if at any time it was found that one was wanting in ones efficiency he would at once go right into the matter and appoint someone else to take over one's job - the most awful reproach that could befall a member of an expedition.


His intimate knowledge of many subjects connected with an expedition and his wonderful power of applying himself wholly to any branch when the need arises place him in a position in which he can afford to look on complacently on our respective duties so long as we are duly performing them in accordance with his wishes.


On the other hand he is particularly shrewd, and a little inclined to be suspicious, as if at one time someone had endeavored to throw dust in his eyes.


It would be almost impossible to "bounce" him & woe betide anyone who tried.

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