‘The problem in my life and other people’s lives is not the absence of knowing what to do but the absence of doing it’.
- Peter F. Drucker, management expert
Most of us maritime professionals may, through our competency exams, diplomas and training courses, gradually build our knowledge to a level which is good enough to perform our respective jobs- maybe even excel in it. That helps us to know what to do, why to do it and how to do it well. That helps us to lead with expertise.
Still, we need to be motivated enough to want to do our jobs, and alert enough to be able to do it well, consistently. To intentionally develop the mindsets and abilities to do what we need to do is to lead oneself.
But even the most accomplished professionals drift from their course, as we too may have done have at some time or the other in our career. Sometimes, we get distracted and lose focus. The tanker Attilio Levoli grounded off Southampton, and one of the factors reported was the Master’s use of the ship’s mobile phone distracting him from his navigational duties during a critical manoeuvre.
Another accident report mentioned a crew member who was walking up the stairs to his cabin with a cup of coffee and a hard-drive after watching a movie in the lounge. He stumbled- as he was not holding the rails, he fell and injured his face. He had to be repatriated home for facial surgery.
There may be days when we may simply be fatigued, or stressed, or feel unwell. Lack of sleep is a big leadership killer. The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch reported that 'a third of all groundings involved a fatigued officer alone on the bridge at night'. Take for example the grounding of the Danio in the Farne Islands nature reserve, off the east coast of England. The chief officer, who was the officer on watch, had fallen asleep. We all know the days we are irritable and moody when we haven’t slept well -we get into an unhelpful state of mind which could cause us to make wrong decisions.
When we do not organize our time and work space, it comes back to trouble us. On the El Faro, the ship suffered loss of propulsion when it was manoeuvring to disembark the Pilot at San Juan. The investigation determined that an Oiler mistakenly closed the lube oil outlet valve instead of the salt water cooling valve. The error caused the flow of lube oil to the main turbine and gravity tank to stop. The rest of the crew responded by securing the main steam turbine and locking the shaft to prevent bearing damage. This incident was caused by a lack of adequate marking and organization of the workspace.
The sea does not care if we have a problem at home, or we don’t feel motivated enough to do a good job. A single mistake can result in grievous harm to ourselves, our team on board, the ship, the crew and the environment. However, it is possible to navigate through all these challenges and steer yourself to successful leadership. The steering model helps us remember the steps that we can take to ensure that we are at our best every day. The model is explained in detail over five chapters in the book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas.
The steering model expands to practical steps such as time management, the essentials of planning on board and helpful habits.
For example, there are tips on how to retain our attention during routine tasks:
- give yourself time so that you are not rushed despite any distractions that may come up at the last minute
- set up a ‘red bridge’ status so that non-essential tasks give way to high-priority tasks such as manoeuvring
- stay ‘mindfully manual’ with techniques such as ‘pattern-interrupts’
- engage your senses to be aware of all the cues that your workspace is offering you to react in time, and
- to focus with techniques such as getting in the zone for a task based selective focus and a five-minute preparation.
Leading yourself is all about you. You must lead yourself before you think of leading others. You are the person everyone on the ship and ashore count on to make it happen. It is you, and only you, who is responsible for what you are able to accomplish. You can and should steer your own ‘Leader’ ship.
Captain VS Parani, FNI, FICS, CMarTech-IMarEST
Author, Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Stripes-Leadership-High-Seas/dp/1849953147)
This article also appeared in the Safety4Sea Log May 2018 edition (https://safety4sea.com/steer-your-leader-ship/)