It is very common these days to hear about the need for leadership development in the shipping industry. This is especially in the context of seafarers and the ship operations.
With loads of information at our disposal from internet, etc., often conflicting in nature, this short article attempts to look in to this important matter in a holistic manner.
What is Leadership?
When we use the term Leadership in an organizational context, it may carry several connotations. Leadership typically in the context of politics implies ability to influence, direct, change people/masses.
However, in an organizational context, whether profit oriented or charitable, or even a government department, a Leader/Manager would typically mean a person in position of authority, who oversees certain functions, has a team working under him/her, and has certain organizational goals to achieve.
When we try to analyze the functioning of organizations, following ideas emerge:
Organizations have the need for management, for continuity of their activities/services to the society/market, hence managerial skills which include planning, organizing, executing, and monitoring are needed. Management is about maintaining, ensuring things continue to run efficiently and effectively. These skills clearly have a certain scientific angle to them, can be relatively easily quantified, and hence can also be expressed in empirical terms.
Also, since organizations comprise people working within the structure and systems, there arises the need for people in positions of authority to possess additional skills which are people related, such as motivation, effective communication, coaching and mentoring, decision making, appraisals writing, change management, etc. These skills are relatively abstract, have elements of subjectivity, hence are difficult to be translated in terms of empirical terms (although applied psychology attempts to this for some skills). These skills carry elements of experience and feel.
Manager or a Leader?
So, for an organization to function effectively, both sets of skills are needed, and they do overlap, and therefore the discussion on Managers and/vs Leaders has limited merit and utility. What is needed instead is to have clarity on the typical skills needed at various levels for effective organizational functioning, and to train people to acquire those skills. We may say, though erroneously, that a junior management professional is more of a Manager, whereas a senior level manager is a Leader!
Levels of Management.
In the maritime context, just like any other industry, the broad levels of leadership/management hierarchy are: The Strategic level with long term vision and approach, i.e. the top management; the tactical level with medium term goals like Superintendents, Vessel Managers, etc., typically the middle level management; and the operational level, the top four seafarers on board ships.
While there is a fairly standardized way in which most maritime owners and managers structure themselves and function, to achieve higher degree of effectiveness, skills required at each level need to be identified based on each organization’s philosophy, policies and practices. Any skill development will then ideally need to be customized and monitored closely.
As one moves up the organizational ladder, the need for application of managerial skills reduces in quantum, replaced progressively by people-oriented skills, skills and ability to perceive the future, sense the environment and give directions to the entire organization through effective communication.
Fertile Ground for Nurturing Skills
Training to create Managers and Leaders is just like sowing seeds. We do not get fruits just by sowing seeds. They require the right environment: sunshine, water, manure, fertilizers and care to hold ground, grow, ward off against negative forces and finally bear fruits. Very often, in an organizational context, training is expected to deliver results immediately. We completely ignore whether the environment is right for application of what one may have learnt during training. This is especially true for development of leadership skills, which essentially means taking charge. Lack of challenges, over indulgence of superiors, and excessive communication are some of the serious hindrances to a person developing leadership abilities.
So, when we speak about development of skills, we need have a holistic view of the situation. We need to ensure that we put all the pieces in place within the organization, from identifying the need, creating interventions, and preparing conducive environment, to the best of our ability for an effective skill development process.
Date: 11 December 2018