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Bob Schoultz
Naval/Academic leader

Bob Schoultz

Captain Bob Schoultz (U.S. Navy, Ret.) directs the Master of Science in Global Leadership at the University of San Diego's School of Business Administration.

Emergency Leadership

This post is In response to the following question:
As the heroic Capt. Richard Phillips reminded us when he offered himself to the pirates instead of his crew, sea captains, like all good leaders, are expected to sacrifice themselves and their personal interests to protect those under their command. What are other examples from other fields of endeavor of leaders who have succeeded or failed to live up to this obligation? What factors should leaders consider when deciding when and whether to make extraordinary personal sacrifices?
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It is a long-standing naval tradition that the ship's captain is the last one to leave his ship when it is going down. That tradition is also evident in other professions in which a single person is responsible for the lives of many people, as was evident for the world to see and admire when Captain Sullenberg was the last person to leave his aircraft, walking the aisles twice to ensure that no passengers were left on board, after he brought US Airways flight 1549 onto the Hudson River in January of this year.

The expectation that the ship's captain, whether that be a sea-borne or air-borne ship, be willing to sacrifice their safety for the lives and safety of those under their charge, is an important part of the professional ethos of a number of much-admired professions. This sense of responsibility for the well being of those under one's charge is, however, fundamental to good leadership of any organization in time of fear, stress and uncertainty.

I see four ingredients to successful leadership when overcoming emergencies and challenges under stress and fear. Leaders must be able to credibly instill in their subordinates 1) a trust in the leader's competence to effectively deal with the threats to that the organization; 2) a belief in the leader's personal commitment to the welfare of the individuals in the group ("They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.."); 3) a sense that all members of the group, including the leader, share in the risk and sacrifice required to overcome the threat, and; 4) knowledge that families and loved ones will be taken care of if the worst happens.

Captain Phillips clearly demonstrated 1, 2, and 3, and it appeared from news reports that representatives of Maersk Lines were actively engaged with the family of Captain Phillips, taking care of that fourth ingredient.

By his willingness to give himself up as a hostage to the Somali pirates, Captain Phillips was certainly aware that he was subordinating his loyalty to his family, friends, and Vermont community to his loyalty to his crew and the demands of his profession. But that is part of the ethic of his profession, as it is in the military, police, and other professions. I assume that Capt Phillips was subconsciously acting on a priority of loyalties, and personal welfare was clearly not at the top of that list. By his willingness to make that sacrifice, he also enhanced the stature of his family and community, and so in that sense, his selfless action was also an act of loyalty to those other groups who could conceivably have suffered from his action. Any profession or organization that has an expectation that one be ready to make significant personal sacrifice, has to include provisions for taking care of family and community, whenever that sacrifice becomes necessary.

Most discussions of loyalty focus on the loyalty expected of the individual to the organization and its leaders. Loyalty however is a two-way street - and Captain Phillips clearly demonstrated loyalty to the people under his command and for whom he clearly felt responsible. Many corporate leaders have been very loyal to the people they have served as leaders, and done all that they could to competently lead, take care of people, share sacrifice, and take care of families during the stress of the current economic crisis. They are hopefully rewarded with strong bonds of trust and loyalty, not only from their employees, but also from the extended families, friends, and communities of those employees, and ideally also with the patronage of current and future customers.

On the other hand, the press has also made us aware of many other corporate leaders who have taken their money and run, leaving their "ship's crew" adrift, to struggle and deal alone with the downturn in the economy. Though these corporate leaders may never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, or whether they can make the next payment on their yacht, they will never know the joys of being in an organization with a strong ethic of loyalty, mutual commitment, and shared sacrifice, and may learn only too late, that indeed, loyalty is a two-way street.

By Bob Schoultz

 |  April 14, 2009; 6:58 AM ET
Category:  Self-Sacrifice Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Just as I sent my earlier comment, I realised that the 'Maersk Lines (who) were actively engaged with the family of Captain Phillips' are themselves not a US company but Danish!

Posted by: LillyEvans | April 15, 2009 2:48 AM
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This post reminds me of a recent item on BBC radio 4 on the Mumbai Taj Hotel bombing and its subsequent reopening.

The parent company (Tata) and hotel Director (who has himself lost a wife and two sons in the attack) were immediately on hand to their staff and members of family of all, whether alive or dead. They have offered full, life-long pension to spouses of the staff members who died (there is no obligation to do so). They have continued to pay full pay to their staff during the renovation (both healthy and injured).

As the result, their customers have amply rewarded them. When the hotel restaurant reopened (in record time, as a matter of weeks), it was overbooked. The guests came back to stay there.

And the stories of members of staff (often quite junior) leading the guests out of the hotel to save them have already been told.

May be this is something to do with prevailing social culture in USA and India. It may be time to explore this further.

I should say that I live in UK, but having spent time in hotels in both India and USA, I can see that the above behaviour is unlikely to have happened in USA.

Posted by: LillyEvans | April 15, 2009 2:22 AM
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I am totally in awe of this Captain because I know that this required quick and unflinching action on his part. With the benefit of hindsight I also know that his choices were risky and he willingly put himself in harms way to spare his crew and enhance his mission - delivering food aid to to the needy in Kenya.

But I also mourn the loss of life in this incident. Young men, hardly more than boys were thrust into a situation they were clearly unprepared for; the "pirates", actually hardly more than neighborhood thugs, had very little chance against the US Navy.

What if the Captain had peaceable turned his ship over? Hungry people in Africa might have died, his company might have had a few points of their profit shaved off with a ransom, his crew could have suffered harm - or not.

I admire the brave and loyal actions of Captain Phillips and I am proud that my country stood behind him. But I will wait to see how this event influences the future before proclaiming it the absolute right thing to have done.

Posted by: RedBird27 | April 14, 2009 5:14 PM
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