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The Shackleton method of team leadership in legal education

In his paper Frederick Price (College of Law) presented a discussion of the challenges facing team leaders in legal education.

Frederick’s slides are embedded below, and you can also download his full paper (RTF file, 11 pages, 112 KB).

Team leaders in legal education face a number of challenges. This paper starts by analysing the team model for staff at the College of Law, and then takes a brief look at the achievements of Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922). His Antarctic expedition in 1914, when he led his men to safety following the loss of their ship near the South Pole, represents the high watermark of successful team leadership in civilian life.

The paper suggests that Shackleton’s methods lend themselves well to legal education, analysing a number of his techniques including selective information sharing, ‘shepherding’ (keeping the team together as they progress towards a given objective), and deliberate usage of short term planning as a management tool.

The paper then examines how team leaders might use Shackleton’s techniques to improve their leadership styles, discussing day to day tasks such as agenda setting, the maintaining and enhancing of standards, decision making, delegation, upward management, consensus building, meeting deadlines, maintaining morale, the use of technology and stakeholder relations.

It then goes on to examine briefly how the Shackleton method sits with traditional team models such as Belbin (team characteristics) and Tuckman (behaviours). These themes are then drawn together into a template for leadership in legal education.

The paper ends with a look at future challenges for team leaders in legal education and how to meet them.

Penny English (Anglia Ruskin University) reports:

Taking the leadership model used by Sir Ernest Shackleton during his expedition to the South Pole in 1914, Frederick suggested that some of the techniques Shackleton employed could be used to good effect in the context of legal education to create effective teams.
Shackleton was undoubtedly successful – perhaps the most successful civilian leader of his time. His leadership ensured the survival of all the members of his expedition, who were led to safety following the loss of their ship The Endurance in pack ice. The team were far from a homogeneous group, containing a mixture of sailors and scientists, so his achievement in keeping the team united in pursuit of the common goal of survival is all the more remarkable. He achieved this through a combination of an astute awareness of the need to be selective in the information he shared, effective delegation and constant ‘shepherding’ to keep the group together. Combined with aspects of his personality such as mental strength and decisive decision making, particularly in dealing with dissent, his method certainly worked.
Since leading a group of academics is frequently described as akin to attempting to herd cats, are Shackleton’s methods easily transferable to a group of legal educators? Especially since it may be less easy to define a clear and unified goal when the aims of the individuals within a team are diffuse and not all focused on physical survival. Nevertheless, this comparison with other models of team leadership gave much food for thought, setting me thinking about others of his contemporaries who might also be a rich seam of inspiration.

About Frederick

Frederick Price is a senior lecturer and team leader at the College of Law. He has a particular interest in the themes of lifelong learning, cultural openness, facilitation and individual enablement, and has written and spoken on topics including ‘The virtuous circle: course design, teaching and assessments’ at the Society of Legal Scholars’ 2007 Annual Conference and ‘Team leadership in professional legal education’ at the Association of Law Teachers’ 2008 Annual Conference.
Frederick is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Last Modified: 9 July 2010