Schettino’s Failure of Leadership

Several years ago while taking a class onmanagement styles, a question came up that made a powerful impact on how I interacted with people around me. The question was this; Is management and leadership the same thing? On one hand, management is the process of dealing with or controlling things or people. While leadership is the action of leading people by precept, principle and example. Like me, you may have never thought of these two states separately, but as you look at the definitions, it is clear they are not the same.

I say it like this, management is getting people to do the right things, but leadership is helping the right people do the right things. The difference is found in the application and activation of people. In life, business and everything else, people must be part of the equation. If they are not, you won’t see sustained success. This difference came to light in a tragic manner for hundreds of passengers earlier in January.

On January 13th, 2012 while unsuspecting guests gathered on the restaurant decks of the cruise liner The Costa Concordia, the ship drifted onto rocks in the harbor of Isola del Giglio. As the ship began to drastically capsize, it took many cruise goers several moments to realize this wasn’t a drill, but that the ship was in danger. Panic erupted and we have a snap shot of what leadership does and does not look like. Take into consideration Italian officials report the captain, Francesco Schettino, had veered off course claiming he had an expert knowledge of the area. This put the 144,000 ton vessel right in the middle of a shallow harbor filled with rocks. Allow me to show you several points of error and explain how we can avoid them in our lives.

  • Captain Schettino made the error of assuming he was better than his equipmentWhile those assigned to the bridge and captain’s aid stood by, the captain attempted to sight guide the ship. We have the blessing of people around us that have skills we can benefit from in our journey. There is no need to make guess work when we have quality people around us.
  • Captain Schettino delayed the order to evacuate and put many in danger: Francesco seemed to be concerned about his reputation and even job before the welfare of the people he was sworn to protect. As the captain, he had the mandate to assess the situation and in the presence of danger, do all he could to preserve life. Often, we are faced with a ‘fight or flight’ decision and we have to remember we are in positions to serve other.
  • Captain Schettino not only fled the ship before many passengers, but was threatened by authorities for refusing to return to guide searches: This is probably the worst display of leadership in history. While hundreds scrambled to secure a spot on life boats and count their families, Italian Coast Guards have a recorded conversation that the captain claimed he tripped and fell into a life boat that was leaving. One hallmark of a true leader is their willingness to ‘own’ a mistake. Excuses are for cowards.

To date, the death toll is 17 and 29 individual are still unaccounted for. This epic failure is just an example that having a position of authority does not make you a leader. Many have the skill set to ‘manage’ but few have the quality of a leader. Leadership looks like responsible, accountable people who can navigate through tough times just as skillfully as the good times. Take the steps necessary to be a true leader and shine in an otherwise dark environment.

See you at the TOP!
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