On Leadership and Management Development & Training for Sea-Going Officers

NL 47
On Leadership

Capt TeoA61

By Capt. Richard Teo

Leadership management for officers

Much has been debated about the need for officers to have leadership and management skills. In a rather confused and make-shift way, this basic competence or skills set have made its way into the STCW code at operational level. It is now being promoted for management level. Really? Is there truly a difference in level of skills? Many argue that leadership and management is intrinsic to our abilities in work and life and therefore the aspiring officer will require development and training as soon as he or she decides to make himself/herself useful in their chosen career. One gets better and more skillful with experience, exposure and learning when engaged in the various disruptions that will occur as we traverse through life. This short article hopes to open up the horizon for many of our myopic leaders in MET, regulatory and ship operations.

Secret to developing effective leaders

Claudio Feser, Fernanda Mayol, and Ramesh Srinivasan in McKinsey, January 2015, report that new research suggests that the secret to developing effective leaders is to encourage four types of behavior.

Telling anyone these days that leadership drives performance is a bit like saying that oxygen is necessary to breathe. Over 90 percent of CEOs are already planning to increase investment in leadership development because they see it as the single most
important human-capital issue their organizations face. And, they’re right to do so: earlier McKinsey research has consistently shown that good leadership is a critical part of organizational health, which is an important driver of shareholder returns. All
very good indeed.

Most neglected sector for the maritime industry

However in the context of leadership development at sea serving on very large business vehicles (the ship) in the form of “small” strategic business units (SBU), this particular characteristic innovation and development is acutely missing. This is frontline and the nursery bed of growth for nurturing young aspiring shipping executives and business leaders but yet the most neglected sector for the maritime industry, particularly in the development of the officer to higher roles in the industry, beyond ship-borne operations.

The Code insufficient for leadership and management competency development

What sort of leadership behavior should maritime organizations encourage? There are presently no standard definitions or development approaches? The STCW code is insufficient for overall leadership and management competences development, training and sustainability. Workplace (ships) internships do not exist and even where certain efforts have been made in mentoring, workplace leadership lack the actual construct and praxis to provide effective internships. There is still that continuous, nagging gripe from operators, MET, regulators and so on that the Watchkeeper is not up to the job.

Should companies now concentrate their efforts on priorities such as role modeling, making decisions quickly, defining visions, and shaping leaders who are good at adapting? Should they stress the virtues of enthusiastic communication? In the current absence of any academic or practitioner consensus on the answers, leadership development programs address an extraordinary range of issues, which may help explain why only 43 percent of CEOs are confident that their training investments will bear fruit. Perhaps more so acutely in the maritime sector.

Leadership skills correlating with leadership success

McKinseys’ recent research, however, suggests that a small subset of leadership skills closely correlates with leadership success, particularly among frontline leaders. McKinsey came up with a comprehensive list of 20 distinct leadership traits. They surveyed 189,000 people in 81 diverse organizations around the world to assess how frequently certain kinds of leadership behavior are applied within their organizations.

What they found was that leaders in organizations with high quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 possible types of behavior.

These 4, indeed, explained 89 percent of the variance between strong and weak organizations in terms of leadership effectiveness.

Solving problems effectively. The process that precedes decision making is problem solving, when information is gathered, analyzed, and considered. This is deceptively difficult to get right, yet it is a key input into decision making for major issues
(such as M&A) as well as daily ones (such as how to handle a team dispute).

Following through to achieve results

Operating with a strong results orientation. Leadership is about not only developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives but also following through to achieve results. Leaders with a strong results orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work.

Seeking different perspectives. This trait is conspicuous in managers who monitor trends affecting organizations, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute ideas that could improve performance, accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues, and give the appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Leaders who do well on this dimension typically base their decisions on sound analysis and avoid the many biases to which decisions are prone.

Supporting others. Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organizational efficiency, allaying unwarranted fears about external threats and preventing the energy of employees from dissipating into internal conflict.

Note: These four similar skills are tabulated in the Australian Maritime Training Package (MAR13) within the range of Employability Skills requirement.

Core leadership behavior

The research points to a kind of core leadership behavior that will be relevant to most companies today, notably on the front line that will consist of ship and shore staff. For organizations investing in the development of their future leaders, prioritizing these four areas is a good place to start.

The paradigm shift

But first, maritime needs to realise that the shift in paradigm for training and development must begin with the acceptance that mind sets and culture must change for the better. This is an ongoing challenge. Perhaps as IMO gets more transparent, one of the outcomes mentioned by the incoming Secretary General, Lim Ki-Tack, may compel these changes.

Better personnel development on board ships


As we point towards better personnel development on board ships. These ships too must become a useful component in learning and doing and itself becomes a learning organisation whilst it goes about the daily routine of the business of shipping
and transportation across the world. There can’t be many better workplaces that can foster learning and doing the business better than a mobile strategic business unit, surely?

To successfully change culture there are some prerequisites to success. These prerequisites include change clarity, change commitment, change capacity, change capability and change effectiveness which are needed to successfully accomplish the
culture change. The purpose of evaluating the presence of these prerequisites is to prevent obstacles that would otherwise delay or stymie the culture change. Donna Brighton – Culture University

NL 47 Leadership

Further Reading
Fesser C., Mayol F., and Srinivasan R., (2015) Decoding leadership: What really matters; McKinsey Quarterly, January 2015

Senge. P. (1988). The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation

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