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Drew Barrymore learned these leadership lessons from an iconic Antarctic explorer

The actor, entrepreneur, and producer spoke at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival about her burgeoning media empire and more.

Drew Barrymore learned these leadership lessons from an iconic Antarctic explorer

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 27 men set sail on an expedition to Antarctica. Before they would eventually find their way home again, they’d be forced to survive 10 months trapped in ice, withstanding freezing temperatures, near starvation, and more. What does this have in common with daytime talk TV and entrepreneurship in 2021?

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Speaking at the 2021 Fast Company Innovation Festival, Drew Barrymore told editor-in-chief Stephanie Mehta that Shackleton’s management style has been a big inspiration for how she tries to tap into people’s strengths, rather than leaning on specific job titles.

“All the people on the boat had to live on ice flows to survive, and he looked around and said, ‘What will not create a mutiny?'” Barrymore said. “Okay, I see these four people over there and this guy has this strength and this guy has this weakness—but that guy has that strength, and this guy has that weakness. So if I put them together on the ice flow, they might actually function really much better together.”

Barrymore learned about Shackleton in Alfred Lansing’s 1999 book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. “I think [job] titles really screw people up and keep them in this particular lane, so I think we should throw the rule book out the window and utilize people’s strengths and passions and what they’re good at,” she added. “Understand what that fire is in them and utilize that. Mix people up and put people together in new inventive ways so you create the best function.”

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Barrymore knows what it’s like to mix it up. Her Drew Barrymore Show just kicked off its second season earlier this month. She launched a new lifestyle print magazine and a Walmart exclusive line of kitchenwares, called Beautiful, earlier this year. Oh, and she also has her ongoing beauty and haircare brand Flower. One of her secrets to work success has been putting in the effort to work on herself.

“I have learned that unless you are working on your personal life, your business journey will suffer,” Barrymore said. “You have to keep working on yourself as a person. I’ve had so many decades where I fooled myself into thinking I was okay because my work life was okay and I was thriving at work. I didn’t in my real life. And so I worked on my real life a lot in the last decade, and I’ve actually seen my business life be so much calmer, so much happier, so much more productive and clear.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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