Leadership lessons from the Captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship.

By Luke Sklar and Amber Hudson

We’re going out on a limb here, publishing what is likely the only blog to SUPPORT the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship. 

Vilified by the media, one forgets that he’s a highly-skilled seaman.  Schettino has been with Costa Cruises for 10 years, Captain since 2006.  The chairman and managing director of Costa Cruises, Pier Luigi Foschi, said “He has always been regarded as extremely valid from a technical standpoint…”  Plus, here’s a guy with his heart in the right place:  Schettino brought the ship close to shore so that his head waiter could see his beloved Giglio up close and give a hello toot-toot to his family.  Not many captains would do that for a crew member.  He’s a caring, food-loving, patron of the arts (ballet) who had no intention of abandoning ship but rather, thanks to the forces of gravity, was forced off the Costa Concordia.  The man was clearly not set up to succeed.  So before we dump all over him as the mainstream media has, let’s first get to the root cause of the catastrophe.  Were the right processes in place?  Did he have the right training and tools required to do the best job he could? Particularly in the face of a true crisis?  Is the captain the only person to blame, or should the weight of responsibility fall on the shoulders of others?  Where is Carnival Cruises (the company that owns Costa) in all this anyway?

Okay, enough with the BS, we despise him too.  Here are the lessons we’ve learned from the planet’s most famous coward:

  1. Yes folks, the captain / leader IS the brand and is ultimately responsible. (this week RIM’s Lazaridis and Balsillie clearly got the message)
  2. The true test of a leader is in times of crisis.  Look at Tylenol, Maple Leaf foods, Toyota and BP.
  3. You have to tell the truth.  In a world of Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Redditt, and the old-fashioned audio recording, if you don’t, someone else will.
  4. The human species demonstrates both goodness as well as down-right awfulness.  Case in point, the people who called shotgun and jumped into the life boats ahead of children.  Even your target audience can be a sea of misery and you need to establish the processes and inspiration to get them to do the right thing.
  5. If your Spidey-sense is tingling, don’t wait until the shit hits the fan.  Respond immediately.
  6. And most importantly, even if you’re the “captain” of your brand, don’t believe your own bull.  Stay humble, you are NOT bigger than the rocks.