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Watchkeeper: How to grow leaders

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Leadership and management have been subjects that have been studiously avoided in many parts of the shipping industry, perhaps because of the mistaken idea that “leaders are born and not made” and that good management techniques are absorbed – rather like osmosis – from role models. Commercial shipping has also been traditionally hierarchical, with a tendency to defer, almost automatically, to the rank rather than the wisdom of the instruction, albeit with a suspicion of the sort of formal disciplines imposed by the military.

But afloat, both leadership and management now constitute discrete areas of expertise which have been inserted into maritime training by the Manila Amendments of STCW and even ashore, the well-run shipping company is increasingly looking at ways of ensuring that good leaders and competent managers are being “grown”, in sufficient numbers to ensure future prosperity.
Leadership is not a “black art” or something which is a product of genes and role models are important, but it is worth considering the importance of good personnel management and how all that is best can be encouraged and the opposite excluded. Most people will have been exposed to examples of good leadership and many, on the other hand, will have experienced the very opposite. A moment’s reflection will show how the wrong sort of management and inadequate leadership ultimately diminishes job satisfaction and almost certainly, productivity.
It is significant how the “culture” (or ethos) of the organisation will tend to fashion the model. The good organisation will exhibit certain core values, which will be reflected in the attitude and behaviour of those who are employed. Individually, the sort of values that will be exhibited by leaders within that organisation might include consistency, fairness, decisiveness, reliability and the encouragement of trust. These will translate from the organisation to the individual.
There needs to be competence at all levels, the existence of a visible chain of command and sensible practical procedures that do not undermine authority, but encourage initiative. And of course, the good leader will be adept at clear communication, radiating integrity and a consistency of behaviour.
The importance of human relationships cannot be over-estimated, with the identities of people known to those who are in charge. People are not numbers. Some of the disadvantages of modern communications manifest themselves here, with “management by e-mail” reducing the need for personal contact even within a team. “Micromanagement” from shore side offices to ships has similarly been recognised as problematical and self-defeating, reducing the ability of people to think for themselves and encouraging a degree of cynicism about the organisation. Actually recognising this as a serious problem will be a huge step towards a change for the better.
The competent leader knows when and where to delegate authority, realising that this helps to build confidence in the subordinates and is helping to grow the next generation.
Precisely how this is being introduced into the training of ships’ officers and seafarers is still the subject of debate within administrations. Unlike navigation or engineering practice, where precision is essential, leadership and management are “softer” subjects that hopefully will see some imaginative and practical training techniques emerging and which will bear fruit both afloat and ashore.
Articles written by the Watchkeeper and other outside contributors do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of BIMCO.

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