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Leadership Lessons Learned From the Titanic

I’m not sure if you remembered, but this month marks the 100th anniversary of the launch and sinking of the great ship, The Titanic. It all happened in April, 1912. What a tragedy. I share the often untold story in the first Habitudes book, with the image of “The Iceberg.” As I spoke recently on this topic, someone asked a question about the Titanic. They wondered what happened in the aftermath of that great tragedy to prevent it from happening again. It was a great question, with an equally great answer. Several policies were put in place—that leaders can learn from today.

1. Lights.

This seems small, but since the captain felt the Titanic was an unsinkable ship, he didn’t feel they needed to keep all the lights on at night. Wrong. For leaders today, there are certain issues that must remain in the spotlight. They’re too important. It isn’t that we must become suspicious about everything, just that bad things happen in the dark, when no one is watching. For us at Growing Leaders, it’s social media, our financial records and our donors that have many eyes watching regularly.

2. Special Radio Frequency.

Did you know that there was a ship fairly close to the Titanic when it sunk, but they never received the distress signal? After the ship’s sinking, naval experts decided to establish a special radio frequency just for emergencies. A sort of 911. Makes sense. Today, organizations experience a blitz of voices and noises that can distract them from hearing the signals they need to hear. Leaders must put in place special communication tracks just for these kinds of messages.

3. Different Routes.

Obviously, the Titanic took a route that was laced with icebergs. Not a good thing. After the sinking, navigators established new routes (plural) that would take a ship to her destination in safer waters. A captain and staff could then examine the best route before launching. Hmmm. It sounds cliché, but there’s a great application here for leaders today. When certain paths invite trouble—find a new path. Don’t go down that path again. It may cost more, but find routes and plans that prevent disaster.

4. Twenty-Four Hour Watches

As I mentioned, not long after her sinking, a ship was discovered near the Titanic could have saved everyone on board. The problem was—they shut down their receiver after 10:00 p.m. The Titanic’s operator sent a distress signal out, but no one was listening. Once again, leaders must have on-going accountability and support if they’re to avoid trouble. I meet with an accountability partner who knows my distress signals and asks me how I’m doing.

5. Lifeboats for Everyone

The reason the Titanic was such a horrible disaster, where hundreds of people lost their lives, is because they didn’t have a lifeboat for everyone. They felt it was unnecessary. Once again, wrong. Today, leaders must be prepared for both best-case and worst-case scenarios in the organization. For example, at Growing Leaders, we keep at least three to four months of expenses on hand, just in case there’s another economic disaster, and income slows down for a season.

What other leadership lessons can we learn from the Titanic?

At Growing Leaders, our goal is to help you lead the next generation well. These kinds of steps must be taken to insure we model the way. May I invite you to an event that will equip you to do just that? We will host a National Leadership Forum on June 28-29th, in Atlanta. The entire two days are about building healthy, effective leaders at every level—administrators, teachers, students. It’s ideal for key decision makers in schools, athletic departments, non-profits, churches, and companies. Our speaker line-up is our best ever. For info or registration check it out at: www.NationalLeadershipForum.org.

Hope to see you there.

2 Comments

  1. Ken Chupp on April 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    When the iceberg was spotted, the captain ordered a hard left and the engines in full reverse. Either one of those maneuvers would have been effective, but both together were ineffective. If they had only turned and not reversed engines, then the ship would have responded more quickly and they could have avoided the iceberg. If they had only reversed the engines and not turned they would have hit the iceberg head on at a slower pace. With a head on collision they would have struck the iceberg at the strongest point of the ship, the bow. It would have been damaged, but not a tear that spanned several compartments.

    The point is that leaders need to have a plan when problems arise. When leaders don’t expect problems and they depend on their gut reaction they don’t always make the best decisions. 

    • Tim Elmore on April 4, 2012 at 7:50 am

      That is a great point and an aspect of the story I hadn’t heard before. Thanks for sharing that leadership lesson!

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Leadership Lessons Learned From the Titanic