Byron's Babbles

Collaborate Instead of Coercing

The face of a man, David Marquet, who believes we need to get rid of the old definition of leadership.

During my morning study time today I finished reading the great book Into The Raging Sea: Thirty Three Mariners, One Megastorm, And The Sinking of El Faro by Rachel Slade. Because of my belief that everyone is a leader, everyone needs to read this book. Slade did an amazing job of chronicling the October 1, 2015 loss of the 790 ft U.S. Flagged container ship El Faro in Hurricane Joaquin. The 33 on board all lost their lives and the loss sent shock-waves through the marine industry. I don’t want to spoil the inspiration of reading the book, but Slade explains in detail what happened plus a great many other details and history of the merchant marine industry. Her research included the many conversations on the bridge from the last 26 hours prior to the sinking of the El Faro from the NTSB Voice Data Recorder (VDR) transcripts. Those conversations on the bridge illuminate what went on in the last hours. Slade described in detail how the recovery of the VDR from the 15,000′ ocean floor of water was a major accomplishment.

So why should every leader read this book? The ship’s master, Captain Davidson, had a lot of experience but was known for not listening to the officers and crew. Never forget, it is important for leaders to listen more than they talk. In the transcripts of conversations on the ship’s bridge the officers seemed afraid or, at the very least, reluctant to challenge the route of the captain and a glaring lack of a culture for obtaining important feedback from the officers and crew. The captain had clearly not cultivated a culture that the officers felt safe to give feedback on any items they were concerned about. The transcripts showed that the officers had opinions on safer routes to take, but were never able or comfortable enough to communicate these in a way to make them so. Thus, the ship sailed right into the eye of the hurricane and its ultimate fate. Please note that I have way over simplified this story, but you need to read the book.

As I read Slade’s great book I was reminded of my friend and mentor David Marquet’s great leadership acumen and his incredible book, Leadership Is Language. In his book, Marquet uses the sinking of the El Faro as an example of leadership gone bad. David taught us that outdated top-down language from the Industrial Age playbook of leadership probably played into the terrible tragedy of the El Faro. This is another book every leader must read. Without spoiling all the content let me just say that Marquet argued that once we commit to a small step, we humans can’t help ourselves but to continue to commit in that decision. It’s just the way our brain works. We become stubborn and stick to it, even in the face of evidence that the course of action is failing. He taught us to build in pause and reflect stops. Think about it. If the crew had felt safe in a culture designed as a safe place to speak up, the alternative safer routes would have probably been chosen. Leaders must collaborate instead of coercing.

Finally, when we, as leaders, can admit we don’t know, we allow the team to admit that they don’t know. It also allows a team member to admit they DO know. Leaders must be looking for and encouraging divergent thinking. Remember, trust must be a verb before it can be a noun. I just blogged about this in Trust Is A Verb. Are you trusting your team and encouraging curiosity from everyone? To use one of David’s questions, “How can we make it better?” I had the opportunity this past week to be with David on a webinar with teachers from Canada and was reminded how important it is to move from the old definition of leadership that involves directing the thoughts, plans, and actions of others (see featured picture) to what he describes as “embedding the capacity for greatness in the people and practices of an organization, and decoupling it from the personality of the leader.” Lets get to decoupling.

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