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Letters to a Young Manager

A Funeral, #517

Please note that this letter is in-process; the following are my notes

Dear Sophie,
The Ernest Shackleton story, Endurance,

"The final class in Comparative Leadership focused on the case of the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. This was the case that brought together all of the elements of the leadership framework developed in the class. We read and watched. A week before the class we gathered one evening to see the documentary, “The Endurance” narrated by Liam Neeson (See ). It was a moving film. How Shakleton and his crew survived almost two years in the harshest conditions and one enormous obstacle after another was staggering. 

During the class, the professor had us complete an individual exercise. We each drew a slip of paper from a hat that had one of the scenes from the story on it. We then had to write what we would say to the men as a result, and share it with the class when called on. My question was the following, which two other students also drew: 

“You are Shackleton and it's Nov. 21, 1915. You have just watched the Endurance sink below the ice. What will you decide to do next? How will you communicate this to the men?” 

The first student talked about the need for goals and planning, and sharing these with the men. This was a good answer. It was also very Left Brain. I volunteered a more Right Brain answer: “I’d hold a funeral,” I said, “for the ship.” "It is important for the men to face the reality, and have some time to grieve.” This was a significant loss. After the service—using the ship’s name—I would say, "and this is how we will honor her name: by enduring!" 

This alternative sparked an interesting debate. It was obvious that the students were having difficulty wrapping their minds around this as a reasonable leadership action. Reasonable is the key word."

"So what’s my point? We need more Right Brain in our education. It's true that business school cases are a form of story. They are dissected before and during each class. But it is the “soft” aspects—the Right Brain stuff—that is often missed. Analysis is the bastion of a business school education. It’s important; I don’t want to denigrate that—after all, I’ve been accused of dreaming in spreadsheet cells. But analysis does not motivate change; it does not win the hearts and minds of people. And leadership is more often about winning hearts and minds."

From my Blog post "Left Brain, Right Brain", during the Tuck/Dartmouth sabbatical,
Sincerely yours,

For a fun test on which side of the brain you are using, see theHerald Sun’s article and Left Brain, Right brain visual test, here,21985,22556281-661,00.html . Are you able to focus and make the figure reverse direction? Try reading a poem and looking again :-) 


Honor the right brain

Discussion Questions:

For Further Reading:

Stories provide a way to communicate that draws the listener in and invites her to become part of the story, to make it her own. Steve Denning and others have written about this. You can find their work in that most Left Brain of publications, the Harvard Business Review. 

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