When Leaders Lose Sight of Their Primary Purpose

Lives are lost.  Trust is broken. Property is destroyed. And, the captain is forever tainted with the whiff of cowardice, no matter what the outcome of official investigations to come.  That’s the sad tale of the cruise ship, Costa Concordia.

And Why?  This is why…

The captain, the crew, and possibly even the cruise line, failed to keep focused on their primary purpose.

I see the primary purpose of the captain and crew of a commercial sailing vessel as ensuring the enjoyment and safety of the passengers.  Simply that.

The events that led up to the sinking of the Costa Concordia showed evidence that this purpose, (or facsimile thereof), was nowhere in sight as the Captain chose to sail too close to shore reportedly with the intent of ‘saluting’ a former colleague who lived on the Island.

The result, of course, was a hundred and sixty foot gash in the ship’s hull; a crew that failed to follow proper evacuation procedures; panic and chaos among the passengers; and a captain who appears to have chosen self- preservation over the honour of fulfilling his obligation to the passengers.

This is not the first time this has happened.  In 1991, the cruise ship Oceanos sank in heavy seas off the coast of South Africa.  A similar scenario played out then. This time, luckily, no one died. But, the Captain and crew abandoned ship before the passengers, leaving them to seek leadership from two of the ship’s entertainers who, by all accounts, acquitted themselves bravely staying until the last passenger was safely off the ship.

This is what one of them relates about his experience:

So what does this teach us?   To me, one thing it teaches is the importance of knowing, understanding and believing in a business or organization’s fundamental reason for being; being clear about what and who it is there to serve; and then focusing all activity on the fulfillment of that purpose.

I know, it sounds easier than it is but having a really strong feeling of purpose can make the difference between doing the right things and courting disaster.

Another thing that comes to mind for me is that while leadership is about going first, in some situations, it is also about going last.  In short, whether they are ships or businesses, when they fail, good leaders , stay until the end.

What do you think?



Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Servant Leadership

12 responses to “When Leaders Lose Sight of Their Primary Purpose

  1. Gwyn,

    Thank you for continuing to inspire me every Sunday morning to reach further, think deeper and lead with an open heart and mind in my day-to-day life and work.

    I went non-verbal when seeking to answer your question regarding purpose of my ‘ship’, called Nordcape…so have started to write again.

    Thank you and lots of love,


    • Gwyn Teatro

      Dear Lise ~ Your words have made my day. I know that the good ‘ship’ Nordcape (and all who sail in her) will not suffer, as the people of the Concordia have, simply because it has you at its helm. Thank you for letting me know that my writing is also moving toward realizing its purpose and that is to help and support leaders who want to make the workplace a pleasant, productive and fulfilling place to be.
      Thank you
      Gwyn ❤

  2. Hi Gwyn, This tragedy reminds us of the real danger when purpose and values are not clearly understood and embraced. One again we are attuned – our posts came out within minutes of each other with the same message. 🙂

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Jesse ~ A good message can stand a lot of repetition don’t you think? Yours points to some of the structural and cultural flaws in the larger organization that are very telling. For a Cruise line not to have the word “safety” in its values or vision is very troubling indeed. I think we added value to each other’s posts and for me that a really good thing 🙂

  3. Gwyn,
    You make a super connection between leadership, clarity of business purpose, and loss of focus by using a current story showing the real life danger when a leader behaves badly.

    What a shame.
    Nicely done.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Larry ~ Yes, it is a shame…to say the least. Thanks for checking in and for your kind words. It’s always nice when you do 🙂

  4. I believe you are being too kind to that miscreant – what he did was no different than an airline pilot parachuting out of a stricken plane.

    In his position and role, there can be no option; primary purpose is the safe operation of that vessel, it crew and its guests..

    Perhaps it is my background serving in the Navy that makes me ‘hawkish’ on this, but in the Military that would be a full court martial. He should be getting the same.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Elliot ~ You seem uncertain. 🙂
      And of course, you’re right. I think too, that the Cruise line is also culpable. While the Navy is very clear about its primary purpose and instills it, through a variety of means, in all of its personnel, Carnival Cruise lines have obviously failed to do so. In a disaster of this proportion, refusing to own up to their own part of this shows that Captain Schettino is not the only one who should be subject to court martial.

  5. Gwyn,

    This incident serves as a reminder for companies to both be very clear about their purpose and to focus on “being” it every day. It definitely requires discipline for employees to take actions every single day that reflect the company’s purpose. But if the message is consistently communicated it can be part of the company’s DNA.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Greg ~ Well said! Simply stating the purpose is not enough. As you say, being it makes the difference. Thanks for emphasizing that and for taking the time to comment.

  6. Pingback: When Leaders Lose Sight of Their Primary Purpose | digitalNow | Scoop.it

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