Costa Concordia: Lesson In Failed Leadership

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bloomberg_costa concordia_jtpedersen (2)By now, if you’ve tapped into almost any media source, you’ve heard of how the Costa Concordia ran aground, sank, and created a world of mayhem for all involved.

The initial cause as I read about it in the media, is,”…made an unauthorized, unapproved deviation from its programmed course, a “human error” that led to the grounding of the vessel…,” says the chief executive of the ship’s Italian owner.

We all make mistakes. To do so is to be human.  And, while tragic, that mistake is not itself where the real failure of leadership was demonstrated.

Here’s the initial sequence, and thoughts, as I first learned of the event:

  • A ship, Costa Concordia had run aground.
    Thought: Ship’s Skipper’s responsible for everything involving the ship, what could’ve happened?
  • Heard the, “…the command and crew were sluggish in responding to the crisis.”
    Thought: Slow, disorganized crew response…the crew was properly trained, educated, prepared for such an eventuality.  Making sure the crew’s ready is one of a ship captain’s primary responsibilities.
  • Various reports have alleged the captain abandoned ship hours before the evacuation was complete.
    Thought: Not present!? Absolute dereliction of duty…whether you’re Captain or not, the crew is responsible for the welfare of its passengers.

As this story continues to evolve, I am really surprised that though there is a preponderance of evidence, no one has picked up on this seemingly complete failure of leadership.

We will continue to learn more.  We need be careful not to prosecute the Captain and his crew in the media inappropriately:  the black box recorders’ contents have not yet been revealed; the Captain has not spoken publicly; and, even the Costa Concordia’s owners are providing inconsistent stories.  For instance, Costa Crociere chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi, “…praised the crew for its handling of the crisis.”  Sorry, it doesn’t work both ways.

Whether your job is to run a ship, or run a business, leaders have certain responsibilities.  Chief among them is to:

  • Remain committed to your cause (no abandonment);
  • Ensure your crews, your teams, are prepared for the task at hand;
  • Be accountable, see it through to the end, whatever that end may be; and,
  • Above all, provide leadership, direction, and ensure execution.

My condolences go out to everyone involved. This has certainly been a tragic event and lives have been irreparably harmed or lost.  However grim, this event will serve as a leadership case study for decades to come.

source image credit: Bloomberg
modified image: JT Pedersen