It was the cruise of a lifetime for some people until they realized something was dreadfully wrong. Many had managed to don their lifejackets before the electricity went out. That's when the hours of making the wrong types of memories began. It was a nightmarish time especially after it was learned that some of the people on board had died. Still, as they exited the ship, they shook the hand of the captain and thanked him for his efforts.
That was 2010. The ship was the Splendor, a Carnival ship that had an onboard fire. A fire at sea is one of the most dreaded events for sailors. That's why you will not have a candlelight dinner even on the most luxurious liners. No flames are allowed. In this case the captain stood his post, did everything possible to manage the situation and, as a result, received the gratitude of the passengers.
What about the more recent event in Italy on the Costa Concordia? It is one of the starkest examples of poor leadership in modern history.
The details will not be known for some time but some of the early reports give us insight into what took place. How do these relate to your leadership situation?
ORGANIZATION This was not a Carnival corporate problem. As the event with the Splendor demonstrates, the organization has protocols for different situations, especially those that involve safety.
Does your organization have a Plan B for events that might occur? How would you manage your employees and your customers if you experienced a catastrophic event?
INDUSTRY The entire cruise industry, including Carnival's competitors, is concerned that this event will cause them to lose business. How will you differentiate yourself from competitors who have just had catastrophic events?
How can you emerge as a trustworthy vendor when others in your industry are coming up short?
ATTITUDE The personality of an organization is a direct reflection of the personality at the top. Yes, organizations - and audiences - have personalities. The captain of the Costa Concordia apparently saw little need for emphasizing safety. After years at sea, after all, he had seen few events that would require using the emergency procedures. In fact, the practice lifeboat drill had not been done even though the ship was underway. The crew seemed to be unprepared for any aspect of the emergency.
As a leader, everything you do is magnified and everything you say is amplified. What do your people think is important to you?
PRE-PREPARED Do you listen to the safety announcements on the airplanes when you fly? Me neither. After five million miles I think I could probably do the announcements for them without a script. The few air emergencies I've been in taught me that all those messages actually come to mind when needed. They have been drilled into my head to the point that they will come to mind when the situation arises.
Ask your team members, "What would you do if _______ ?" See what comes to mind for them. You will find out how pre-prepared they are.
ARROGANCE "I will be able to handle it" are the famous last words of too many people. The truth is, we don't know what we can handle until we face it head-on. Training and practicing can make the difference between success and failure. That's why I stress pre-call planning and role playing as much as I do.
The middle of a crisis in the wrong time to try and figure out what we're supposed to do.
Chuck Reaves, CSP, CPAE, CSO