FROM THE CAPTAIN'S WINDOW
Stories on Maritime Leadership
Grounding on a Curve; Leadership Lessons from the Sea
“My life is one long curve, full of turning points”
Pierre Trudeau (15th Prime Minister of Canada, and father of the current (23rd) Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau)
On a foggy evening of January ‘14, the container ship Cap Blanche was proceeding up the Fraser River to the Fraser Surrey Docks in British Columbia, Canada. The navigators on the Bridge were the river pilot, the ship captain, a watch officer and a helmsman.
After a straight course upriver, the ship came up to the Stevenson Bend. The pilot ordered 15-degrees starboard rudder. His own chart plotting device showed the predicted ship’s track to comfortably turn the bend.
Three minutes later, the pilot realised that the ship was turning too fast. He applied counter helm, and speeded up the ship- but unsuccessfully. The ship grounded on the southern bank of the river. Fortunately, the river bed was silt, and not rock which could have split open the keel. The ship refloated on the next rising tide without much damage.
When our life follows a linear course, it’s easy to feel under control, and predict what’s coming. But life is seldom a straight line and is almost always full of curves and surprises. Are you prepared to negotiate the changes that life brings?
The pilot’s position tracker had a GPS smoothing interval which did not give an accurate prediction of the turn. A leader’s job is to stay ahead of the curve, be prepared for changes, and negotiate them successfully. How well prepared are you to anticipate external and internal factors of change? Are you relying on just one source of information? Or are you considering multiple views, even some unpleasant ones to help your decision making?
The Pilot did not share the turning procedure for the curve with the rest of the bridge team. Neither did the Captain or the officer on watch realise that the turn was going wrong- before it was too late. Are you taking your team, stakeholders and family with you during a process of change? What inputs are you missing by not involving them? But you should keep them involved all the time, and not just expect them to participate when you’re at a curve.
The ship’s speed and rate of turn were too high for the curve. That gave the navigators less time to monitor the progress, and apply any correcting manoeuvres. Have you thought if your team and your organization can cope up with the speed of change, or if they are prepared for it?
Whether it is a ship navigating along a river, or a telecom giant having to adapt to smartphone technology, or even a new challenge in your career, a change of course is inevitable. Are you prepared to avoid a grounding, and keeping moving?
Captain VS Parani
Author, Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas