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Leadership in Crisis

January 31, 2012







Leadership in Crisis
PHRAnkly Stated Observations and Opinions from the Steel City

By: Janet Lahlou

Leaders fail us every day.  It’s part of being human.  Following the tragedy of the wreck of the Costa Concordia, in my humble opinion there is no other explanation for this senseless tragedy but a complete failure of leadership.  The question is what can the rest of us take away from this tragedy and apply in our own organizations?

It will be years before the full ramifications of this leadership failure are known.  The story evolves more each day through the worldwide press.  As I write this, the death toll now stands at 15 and about 18 more are still missing.  I am dumbstruck to read that the company is offering survivors a 30% discount on future cruises.  I’m sure that’s what a cruise survivor wants to hear right now.  Who on Earth thought this was good timing let alone a good idea?

Until I saw the “30%” story, I was content to blame everything on the captain.  Listening only superficially to the story, it was easy to do.  However, with each new detail, I cannot help but think that the tragedy was the inevitable result of an organization devoid of leadership at all levels.

Obvious points of Captain Schettino’s leadership failure aside, there are three big picture items that I take away from this tragedy.  These are universal truths of leadership that we see played out every day.

Leadership failures, even at lower levels, can derail an organization.

The CEO of Princess Cruises may have been more concerned about the competition and the economy than Captain Francesco Schettino.  Yet, the actions of this leader in a subsidiary company has cost at least 15 people their lives, damaged the reputation of the entire cruise industry and is wreaking havoc on Princess Cruises stock.

Character is everything when it comes to leaders.

Perhaps the tragedy starts with the fact that this captain was willing to take obscene risks with other people’s lives, property, time and money all for the purpose of showing off.   Such actions say to me that this man is bereft of an ounce of good leadership traits.  Further, when the ship hit the rocks, the Captain failed to lead again and failed to cooperate with the Coast Guard attempting to rescue passengers.  That kind of indifference to human life is shocking and probably years in the making.  From my view this tells me that Mr. Schettino didn’t take his job as Captain seriously and didn’t consider for a minute that he had thousands of lives entrusted in his hands.

Serious problems arise when you become desensitized to risk.

Captain Francesco Schettino admits to bringing the boat dangerously close to shore other times before just to wave at people he wants to impress.  The Captain claimed that the salute was ordered.  Others report that these salutes were a common practice.  Certainly, this senseless tragedy could have been avoided.  Had the cruise company not given the appearance that ship captains are free to veer off course and wave at people on the shore, the practice would likely not have become as pervasive as it seems to have been.  The lesson here: leaders, pay attention to your risks.  If you get away with a stupid move once, consider yourself lucky and do not repeat the dumb move.

So, what now?

Given that dereliction of duty is so clearly documented in the press, Captain Francesco Schettino will most likely land in jail.  Does anyone really believe that he tripped and fell into the lifeboat?  I bet a jury of his peers won’t.  But, how long will the trial take to play out in the courts?  Could this tragedy bankrupt the company Costa Cruises or its parent Carnival Cruise?  According to Costa Cruises, the answer is no.  Through a series of videos on YouTube, the company explains their position on all events of the tragedy and claim that they expect to emerge from this tragedy in fine fashion.

We need leaders of quality in our organizations.  Men and women of good character who will rise to the occasion in a tragedy and not wait for others to intervene and clean up their mistakes.  Perhaps more importantly, we need leaders of character who will do everything in their power to ensure that unnecessary risks are not taken so that such tragedies are prevented.

How sure are you about the quality of leaders in your organization?

The opinions expressed by the PHRA Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the PHRA or any employee thereof. PHRA is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by Bloggers and all content is provided for informational purposes only. The PHRA provides no warranty about the content or accuracy of content enclosed.  All links are for information purposes only and are not warranted for content, accuracy, or any other implied or explicit purpose. The owner of this blog reserves the right to edit or delete any comments submitted to this blog without notice.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2012 3:43 pm

    Good points all. I also have read that the Cruise line is calling all of the passengers asking them (and in many cases causing them) if they are suffering from any psychological consequences as a result of the crash. Sounds like their leadership has suffered, is suffering and will continue to suffer from ineptness.

    Sadly I know of many organizations whose leaders “sink their ships”!

  2. February 2, 2012 10:14 pm

    So true, Ron. It saddens me to read about just blatant lack of leadership. I was inspired to write this blog when I read about the 30% off campaign. Seriously. Wow. I was rendered speechless. I’m so happy we have this forum for discussion in the PHRA.

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